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When thinking about goals undermines goal pursuit

 

Jinhee Choi

Korea University Business school

 

  To motivate themselves and others, individuals often attend to the goals an action achieves. When individuals consider the goals they achieve by pursuing the action, for example, increased flexibility through yoga or improved dental health through flossing, their intentions to pursue that activity should rise. However, other, unintended consequences might also arise from attending to goals. In particular, the focus on an activity’s instrumentality can also affect an individual’s experience while pursuing the activity, potentially making this goal- oriented activity seem more demanding. Such unintended consequences may further influence pursuit of the activity beyond forming intentions.

 

  Accordingly, this article explores the distinct impact the emphasis on an activity’s instrumentality has on forming intentions and on actual pursuit of the activity. For example, we ask whether attending to the many benefits of practicing yoga distinctly impacts the intention to start and adhere to a yoga routine. We distinguish between two types of benefits individuals gain from pursuing an activity: internal benefits that come while and are part of pursuing the activity, and external benefits that come at a separate time and define the goals the activity achieves, namely, the activity’ s instrumentality. For example, working out, reading the newspaper, and doing pottery are activities individuals often enjoy pursuing; thus intrinsic benefits derive from pursuing them. But these activities also offer external benefits that materialize after the activities are completed, including staying in shape, being well informed, and having a decorated home. These external benefits constitute the activities’ “goals,” that is, the desired outcomes of performing the activity. When individuals pursue an activity mainly for the sake of pursuing it, the activity is experiential? the intrinsic experience forms its end. When individuals pursue an activity mainly as a means to an end, the activity is instrumental for achieving the end and is extrinsically motivated.

 

  We predict that behavioral intentions increase with attention to goals an activity achieves, because at the point of deliberation, the benefits the activity achieves are salient and the experience of pursuing the activity is not. When individuals form intentions, they wish to evaluate the benefits from pursuing an activity, and information about instrumentality increases their motivation. For example, a person who learns about the benefits of exercising is more likely to be interested in exercising and might even be more likely to sign up for a gym membership than someone who did not receive this information. In contrast, we predict experience weighs more in the actual pursuit of or persistence on an activity than in forming intentions, because experience is salient during pursuit. For example, a gym member’s experience while working out should affect the duration of a single workout or adherence to a workout routine. If she enjoys it, she will stay longer and return more quickly.

 

  In support of our analysis, four studies demonstrate that before one engages in an activity, thinking about goals increases forming intentions more than attending to the positive experience pursuing these goals engenders. However, among those already pursuing an activity, thinking about goals renders the experience less positive and undermines pursuit more than focusing on the experience. These studies utilized a number of activities that vary by their hedonic value, including working out, doing origami, flossing, and practicing yoga. The implications of these findings for adaptive self-regulation are straight forward: to motivate themselves (and others), individuals? prior to engagement? Should better focus on the goals an activity serves and move their attention away from these goals once they are already pursuing them.

 

Ayelet Fishbach, Jinhee Choi, (2012 ). “When thinking about goals undermines goal pursuit”, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes

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