Negative thinking later in a project can lead to positive results, study says
Struggling to stay committed to a project? Maybe it’s time to stop staying positive.
Visualizing the negative result of slacking on a task may be the key to keeping your eye on the prize, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba have discovered that our source of motivation changes as we work on a project.
We tend to stay psyched at the beginning of an assignment or a weight-loss plan by visualizing the rewards, such as getting a promotion or buying new skinny jeans. So we’re driven to put in the research and extra work on that office project, or to eat more veggies and hit the gym to get healthier. This is known as an “approach strategy.”
But then our brains shift gears as we make progress toward those goals, which is why our enthusiasm tends to flag. Now we focus on the negative outcomes of not hitting a goal, such as getting fired for missing a deadline, or how crappy we’d feel by not losing enough weight to fit into a cute new wardrobe.
Embracing that negativity can get us back on track, researchers say, by focusing on behaviors to avoid that bad result. So missing happy hour to work longer on an assignment, or skipping dessert to cut calories, can help with getting back in the groove. This is known as an “avoidance strategy.”
“Make a list of things ‘not to do’ to stay on course toward your goal,” the study authors suggested. “Write down the negative things you will prevent from happening by reaching your goal, and give yourself a break from something you don’t enjoy when you make progress in later stages of goal pursuit.”
Understanding how effectively approach and avoidance strategies work for us can help us hit our goals.
The authors also suggest that marketers can tap these findings to better target consumers depending on whether they are in the early or later stages of chasing their dreams. For example, gyms could appeal to people who are just starting to get in shape by highlighting their exciting new exercise equipment or workout classes to try out. But gyms would appeal to people further along in their fitness journey, who are worried about not meeting their goals, by emphasizing satisfaction guarantees and “proven” technologies for getting in shape.
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