An Illusion That Can Prevent You From Achieving Your Goals

An Illusion That Can Prevent You From Achieving Your Goals

Did you know that if something is difficult, we’ll often think it’s important for reaching our goals?  This can actually make it harder to get what we want in life.

Recent research done at the University of Chicago shows why.

Sixty-two college students participated in the study.  Half were primed for the goal of becoming a kinder person and half were not.

Of those primed for the goal of becoming kinder, half were given materials on a non-profit organization called Kids In Danger that were easy to read and another half given materials that were difficult to read.  All participants were asked to donate money to the charity.

Those who had the goal of becoming kinder donated more money when the materials were difficult to read than when they were easy to read.  Also those who did not have the goal of becoming kinder did not donate more money when the materials were hard to read.


The researchers noted that past studies show that people associate effort with things that will help them achieve their goals.  And they also do the reverse: If something takes effort they think it must be helpful in achieving their goals.

So participants who wanted to become kinder people thought that Kids In Danger would be more helpful in achieving that goal when the information they were given was harder to read.

Why is this important to know?

Because without realizing it, we often think that a hard path to achieving our goals is the most fruitful.  This is not always the case.

A recent example of this is a friend of mine who spends many hours at the gym yet isn’t getting the results he’s looking for.  I told him of a fitness program that may get him better results in much less time.

He told me “It can’t be that easy.”  And dismissed the idea totally.

While I can’t say that this other fitness program would guarantee him the results he wants, I do know that just because it takes less time (and less effort) doesn’t mean it won’t produce better results.

What examples do you have of people (yourself included) who’ve taken a hard road to achieving their goals when an easier approach was available?

I’d love to hear your answers and any other comments you have below.

Reference to study above:

Psychological Science 2009 Jan;20(1):127-34.
The “instrumentality” heuristic: why metacognitive difficulty is desirable during goal pursuit. Labroo AA, Kim S.

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