To help control and manage progress on a difficult or long-term goal, we often split that goal into many individual subgoals. Once we begin to complete these subgoals, our continued motivation and progress toward the main, or superordinate, goal can be compromised.
The authors show that when people consider success on a single subgoal, additional actions toward achieving a superordinate goal are seen as substitutes and are less likely to be pursued. In contrast, when people consider their commitment to a superordinate goal on the basis of initial success on a subgoal, additional actions toward achieving that goal may seem to be complementary and more likely to be pursued.
via Derek Sivers (Yep, via the post I linked-to in my previous post. I felt that this needed its own post as I wanted to provide a balanced view on the study, not just saying, somewhat incorrectly, “success on one sub-goal [â€¦] reduced efforts on other important sub-goals”.)
Conventional wisdom for setting goals and following through on intentions is to make a public statement of intent in order to bring about some accountability. However the research on the theory is mixed.
Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.
Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”
The research article in question concludes that “Identity-related behavioral intentions that had been noticed by other people were translated into action less intensively than those that had been ignored” and that “when other people take notice of an individual’s identity-related behavioral intention, this gives the individual a premature sense of possessing the aspired-to identity”.
I’m particularly fond of the final two topics and this, from Why is Greater Than How:
This complex world has made us over-emphasize How-based thinking and education. Once the tools are understood, understanding why to do certain things becomes more valuable than how to do them. How is recipes, and learning a craft is more than following instructions.
How is important for new practitioners focused on avoiding mistakes. Why is for those who wish to push, are not risk-averse and seek to improve. How is coulda, Why is shoulda. How is finishing tasks, Why is fulfilling objectives. How usually results in more. Why usually results in better.
This, from Dan Pink, is aÂ wonderfulÂ overview of the research into motivation, presented in typical Pink clarity:
We have a biological drive. We eat when we’re hungry, drink when we’re thirsty, have sex to satisfy our carnal urges. We also have a second driveâ€”we respond to rewards and punishments in our environment. But what we’ve forgottenâ€”and what the science showsâ€”is that we also have a third drive. We do things because they’re interesting, because they’re engaging, because they’re the right things to do, because they contribute to the world. The problem is that, especially in our organizations, we stop at that second drive. We think the only reason people do productive things is to snag a carrot or avoid a stick. But that’s just not true. Our third driveâ€”our intrinsic motivationâ€”can be even more powerful. [â€¦]
Both of us cite research from University of Rochester psychologist Edward Deci showing that if you give people a contingent rewardâ€”as in “if you do this, then you’ll get that”â€”for something they find interesting, they can become less interested in the task. When Deci took people who enjoyed solving complicated puzzles for fun and began paying them if they did the puzzles, they no longer wanted to play with those puzzles during their free time. And the science is overwhelming that for creative, conceptual tasks, those if-then rewards rarely work and often do harm.
When high achievers are primed to achieve excellence, the idea that a task is “fun” undercuts their desire to excel. If something is enjoyable and fun, how could it possibly be a credible gauge of achievement?
Conversely, low achievers who are similarly primed with achievement words perceive a “fun” task as worthwhile. Not only is their motivation to perform improved, so is their ability.
This intriguing twist says much about why one-size-fits-all educational strategies so often fail. For students motivated to achieve excellence, making tasks entertaining may actually undermine their performance. Likewise, for those not normally motivated to achieve, describing a task as urgent and serious yields the predictable result.
It also sheds light on the “lazy genius” phenomenon. Everyone has known someone who is remarkably intelligent but gets mediocre grades and doesn’t seem to care. Clearly, low-achievers are not necessarily less intelligent or less capable than high-achievers; instead, they just don’t respond well to status quo motivational cues. A jolt of enjoyment could turn that around.