To Reach Goals, Accentuate the Positive

A few months ago I wrote about expert tricks for helping stick to our goals.

Now that we’re several months into the year, some of us may be feeling those New Year’s Resolutions slipping through our fingers. If that’s happening for you, I’ve found one more trick that just may help. Recent studies conducted by University of Chicago behavioral science researchers Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach suggest another way to get yourself to keep working towards your goal: enjoyment.

The researchers tracked participants who had set goals—such as advancement in career or improved health—and followed up after two months to learn how successful those people were staying the course. They asked questions such as how much enjoyment the individuals had while pursuing their goal—did they have any fun in the spin class? Did they find any pleasure paying off their debt?—and then further asked if they were still working on their goals.

“We found that enjoyment predicted people’s goal persistence two months after setting the goal far more than how important they rated their goal to be,” wrote the authors in an April 26, 2017 article in the Harvard Business Review.

Meanwhile, they found that caring about the delayed benefits, like, for instance, weight loss or being debt-free, did not predict how much time or effort participants actually gave in pursuit of a long-term goal. Thinking the goal was important did not predict success—“having fun did,” the authors write.

The authors suggest three ways readers can harness this information in pursuit of their own goals:

  1. Consider what you’ll find fun on the way to reaching your goals, and orient your activities in that direction.
  2. Find ways to give yourself immediate benefits. (For example, the authors write, they found that high school students worked longer on a math assignment with an accompaniment of music, snacks, and colored pens.)
  3. Focus on those immediate benefits, paying attention to any enjoyment in the moment.

See the full article and more detail on the research here: What Separates Goals We Achieve from Goals We Don’t.

May we all find pleasure in pursuit of cherished goals!

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