A new research study suggests that our unconscious influences our pursuit of long-term goals.
Researchers from the University of Alberta explored how the unconscious mind responds to objects in relation to an individual’s goals.
Additionally, they studied how the unconscious continues to influence feelings about these objects whether or not the outcome has been successful.
“In the past few years, we recognized that some of [Sigmund] Freud’s ideas on the unconscious mind were, in fact, correct and that a lot of our decision-making and a lot of our feelings are based on things that we’re not really aware of,” said researcher Sarah Moore, Ph.D.
“In our study, we looked at how our unconscious feelings about objects in the environment influence how we pursue goals.”
Earlier studies suggest that for short-term goals – such as responding to basic needs (food, drink) — the unconscious will evaluate objects and form preferences based on whether the object will help an individual achieve the goal.
Moore said that in the case of thirst, items such as a water fountain or a bottle of Coke will be seen positively, while a chocolate bar or KFC sign would not.
However, she explains that, once the goal is reached, those same objects will be evaluated differently.
“Once your thirst is quenched, you don’t evaluate the water fountain positively anymore because you’ve accomplished the goal,” she said, ” but there are differences when we look at long-term goals.”
In the study, researchers looked at long-term goals including getting into shape or pursuing education.
Moore says for both of these goals, the unconscious identifies and responds to objects and triggers in the environment that support the goal. However, unlike short-term finite goals, the unconscious will continue to positively value objects related to the long-term goals even after a level of success has been achieved.
She says this phenomenon points to the indeterminate nature of the goal.
“In some sense, we’re never ‘finished’ with long-term goals,” said Moore. “If we successfully finish the small steps toward our long-term goals, it becomes a cycle: we take a small step, we succeed, we feel good about it; therefore, we continue to feel good about the long-term goal.
“This process makes us more likely to take the next small step toward achieving that goal.”
And while the researchers expected the participants who failed to react negatively or express dislike for objects related to their test goal, Moore and her colleagues found that failure resulted in a neutral view of the objects.
“You don’t hate the objects related to the goal because that goal is very important to you in the long run,” said Moore.
“Your unconscious is telling you ‘now is not the time to pursue the goal. You just failed, let’s leave it alone for awhile. We’re not going to pursue these objects in the environment; we’re going to switch to some other goal.'”
Source: University of Alberta