People have a greater chance of achieving their goals the more frequently they monitor their progress, according to a new study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin. The chances of success are even greater if the progress is written down or publicly reported.
“Monitoring goal progress is a crucial process that comes into play between setting and attaining a goal, ensuring that the goals are translated into action,” said lead author Benjamin Harkin, Ph.D., of the University of Sheffield. “This review suggests that prompting progress monitoring improves behavioral performance and the likelihood of attaining one’s goals.”
The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 138 studies involving 19,951 participants. The studies focused primarily on personal health goals such as losing weight, quitting smoking, changing diet, or lowering blood pressure. Each study investigated the effectiveness of a treatment designed to prompt participants to monitor their goal progress.
The findings showed that prompting participants to monitor their progress toward a goal increased the odds that the participants would achieve that goal. Furthermore, the more frequent the monitoring, the greater the chance of success.
The researchers found that encouraging participants to monitor changes in behavior had a significant effect on those behaviors but not on the final outcome or goal. In contrast, prompting participants to monitor progress toward actual outcome had a significant effect on the outcome but not the related behavior.
For example, prompting people in a weight loss program to regularly watch what they eat may result in a change in diet, but not necessarily achieve the ultimate goal of weight loss, but prompting them to regularly weigh themselves may result in a change in weight, but not necessarily changes in associated behaviors, such as watching what they eat or exercising.
“The implication of this finding is if you want to change your diet, then monitor what you are eating, but if you want to lose weight, then focus on monitoring your weight,” said Harkin.
Further analysis showed that monitoring progress had an even greater effect if the information was physically recorded or publicly reported. For example, people who belong to weight loss groups where they regularly weigh themselves in front of other members have a greater chance of achieving their weight loss goals, Harkin said.
“Our findings are of relevance to those interested in changing their behavior and achieving their goals, as well as to those who want to help them, like weight loss programs, money advice agencies, or sport coaches,” said Harkin.
“Prompting people to monitor their progress can help them to achieve their goals, but some methods of monitoring are better than others. Specifically, we would recommend that people be encouraged to record, report, or make public what they find out as they assess their progress.”