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Planning How to Achieve Goals Can Backfire

Planning How to Achieve Goals Can BackfirePlanning how to achieve goals can actually interfere with actually achieving those goals, according to new research.

The research found that setting goals and making a specific plan to achieve that goal works only when the person has just one goal. More than one goal? People get overwhelmed, said researchers Amy Dalton, Ph.D., of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Stephen Spiller, Ph.D., of the University of California-Los Angeles.

“Research has shown that forming specific plans for a single goal makes success more likely,” the researchers said in their study, which was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. “Most of us, however, are juggling multiple goals in our lives and jobs and managing a busy schedule is difficult. This raises the question of whether forming specific plans can help us accomplish more of the tasks we set out to do.”

The research involved laboratory and field experiments that manipulated whether people plan in advance how they will implement their goals and the number of goals participants tried to achieve.

In one study, the researchers gave participants a to-do list of “virtuous activities” to complete over the course of five days. Some had one activity, but others had six. Half the participants were encouraged to plan specifically how, when, and where they would carry out the to-do list each day. The more goals, the less successful the planning was. A second study, which involved a computer task, yielded similar results.

Why is planning less effective when applied to a number of goals? The researchers believe that planning reminds people of all the obstacles and constraints that stand in the way of achieving their goals.

In an interesting twist, the researchers found that people came to see their goals as more manageable if they thought other people were juggling more goals than they were.

“These people framed their goals as relatively easy to carry out and were more likely to benefit from planning,” the researchers said.

Source: Journal Of Consumer Research

Goals photo by shutterstock.

Planning How to Achieve Goals Can Backfire

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Planning How to Achieve Goals Can Backfire. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 23, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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