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Is This The Secret To Achieving Your Goals?

New research suggests we fail at achieving our goals because we approach them backwards.

When we first decide on a goal we are motivated by rewards. But as we put our plans into action, our focus turns to the difficulty of the effort we need to put in to achieve those goals.

That dooms us to failure, according to scientists at Queen Mary University of London.

They suggest the key to achieving our goals is to consider the effort needed when deciding what to do, and then remembering to focus on the rewards once the time comes to put the effort in.

To investigate the relationship between effort and reward, the researchers designed experiments involving two different forms of effort — physical and mental.

Physical effort was measured squeezing a joystick, while solving simple mathematical equations tested mental effort.

Study participants were presented with different options that combined either high or low effort with high or low financial reward, and were asked to select which one to pursue.

The scientists found that when selecting options, participants were guided by the level of financial reward offered, but on execution of the task their performance was determined by the actual amount of effort they needed to exert.

The researchers report the results were similar for both the physical and mental effort-based experiments.

“Common sense suggests the amount of effort we put into a task directly relates to the level of reward we expect in return,” said Dr. Agata Ludwiczak, research fellow from Queen Mary University of London and lead author of the study. “However, building psychological and economic evidence indicates that often high rewards are not enough to ensure people put in the effort they need to achieve their targets.”

“We have found that there isn’t a direct relationship between the amount of reward that is at stake and the amount of effort people actually put in,” she said. “This is because when we make choices about what effort to put in, we are motivated by the rewards we expect to get back. But at the point at which we come to actually do what we had said we would do, we focus on the level of effort we have to actually put in rather than the rewards we hoped we would get.”

“If we aren’t careful our plans can be informed by unrealistic expectations because we pay too much attention to the rewards,” added Dr. Magda Osman, reader in Experimental Psychology at Queen Mary. “Then when we face the reality of our choices, we realize the effort is too much and give up.

“For example, getting up early to exercise for a new healthy lifestyle might seem like a good choice when we decide on our new year’s resolutions, but once your alarm goes off on a cold January morning, the rewards aren’t enough to get you up and out of bed.”

The study was published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research.

Source: Queen Mary University of London

Is This The Secret To Achieving Your Goals?

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. (2020). Is This The Secret To Achieving Your Goals?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 2, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2020/02/23/is-this-the-secret-to-achieving-your-goals/154389.html
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 23 Feb 2020 (Originally: 23 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 23 Feb 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.