Some people say that to keep your motivation high you need to review your progress frequently. Others say you should keep your eye on the prize and notice the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
It turns out that psychologists have studied this question and their answer was surprising to me.
Each of these ways of thinking about your goal can reduce motivation or increase motivation depending on your level of commitment to your goal.
If you are highly committed to your goal, thinking about how much you have left to do called to-go thinking raises motivation but thinking about how much you’ve accomplished — to-date thinking — reduces motivation.
The opposite is true if your level of commitment is uncertain or low. Thinking about how much you’ve accomplished will raise motivation and how much you have left to do will lower motivation.
One of many studies that demonstrate this point was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
In this study researchers had college students who were studying for a core-course exam think about their progress in terms of how much studying they’d done or how much studying they had left to do.
These students were highly committed to getting a good grade on the exam because it was for a core course and those that thought in terms of how far they’d come, had less motivation to study and studied much less than those students who thought in terms of how much work they had left to do.
In the same study another group of college students were assigned time to study for an elective-course exam – this would be something they had low and/or uncertain commitment to.
Some of these students were made to think in terms of how much progress they had made on studying for the exam and others were made to think in terms of how much work they had to do.
And these students experienced the opposite effects of those studying for the core-course exam.
Those thinking about how much work was left to do studied less and reported feeling less motivated. Those thinking about how much work they’d accomplished felt more motivated and studied for more hours.
But why does thinking about how much work is left to do or has been done have different effects depending on your level of commitment?
Researchers say this is because when you think in terms of how much progress you’ve made on something important to you, it activates a drive to achieve more balance, so you end up spending more time on other goals.
And when your commitment is low or uncertain it’s as if you ask the question “How committed am I?” and you look to your own behavior for evidence of commitment. If you see that you have been putting time and energy into a goal, you decide that this goal must be important to you. Thinking about how much is left to do does not provide evidence of commitment and so does not raise your motivation.
So now you know what to do to raise your commitment to your goal if it is low and how to keep your motivation high if you’re already highly committed to achieving your goal.
How will you use this information to get more done and reach your goals?
Leave a comment with your answer below.
Dynamics of self-regulation: How (un)accomplished goal actions affect motivation. Koo, Minjung; Fishbach, Ayelet
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 94(2), Feb 2008, 183-195. doi:http://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ayelet.fishbach/research/todatetogo.pdf