Recasting Unattainable Goals into Refreshed Options

Several previous posts have showcased research findings linking perseverance and persistence with expert performance and career advancement.

Faizel Mohidin

Faizel Mohidin

Faizel Mohidin SMART goal mind mapMind Map expert Faizel Mohidin shared an augmented understanding of SMART goals in a compelling graphic that showcases the necessity of goal achievability.

Goals may become unattainable due to:

  • Lack of opportunity (older than usual childbearing age, divorce)
  • Negative life event (death of a spouse, job loss)
  • Lack of resources (insufficient time, health, or money), or
  • Unattractive opportunity cost
Carsten Wrosch

Carsten Wrosch

Michael Scheier

Michael Scheier

Concordia University’ s Carsten Wrosch collaborated with Michael Scheier of Carnegie Mellon University, University of British Columbia’s Gregory Miller, Richard Schulz  of University of Pittsburgh, and University of Miami’s Charles Carver to examine disengagement from unattainable, goals, reengagement with more achievable goals, and subjective well-being among 280 volunteers in three studies.

Gregory Miller

Gregory Miller

Richard Schulz

Richard Schulz

Participants rated their ease in stopping focus on unattainable goals, and the amount of effort they invested in alternate achievable goals, along with multiple measures of physical and mental well-being.

They found that people who disengaged from unattainable goals and reengaged with attainable goals reported higher subjective well-being, lower stress, fewer intrusive thoughts about personal issues, and feeling more control in life circumstances than those who persisted with objectively unattainable goals.

Jutta Heckhausen

Jutta Heckhausen

Charles Carver

Charles Carver

Wrosh built on these findings that goal disengagement and reengagement can increase self-efficacy and emotional self-regulation by collaborating with Jutta Heckhausen of University of California, Irvine and Wake Forest University’s William Fleeson, to investigate the special case of women approaching and past the usual age of childbearing.

William Fleeson

William Fleeson

Their observations led them to propose an “action-phase model of developmental regulation,” in which people close to a developmental deadline like end of fertility, focus on “goal pursuit.”

In contrast, people past a developmental deadline without attaining a time-limited goal tend to focus on “disengagement and self-protection.”

This research suggests tempering advice to “never give up” with an assesssment of goal feasibility to decide whether to disengage, then reengage with a more achievable aspiration.

-*What approaches expedite disengagement from an unattainable goal and reengagement  with a revised, achievable objective?


Twitter:    @kathrynwelds
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3 thoughts on “Recasting Unattainable Goals into Refreshed Options

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Thanks to Ruth Mott, for sharing her process to help clients focus on a realistic aspirational (“hoped-for”) future state and future self, with continuing revisions based on feedback.
    Much research focuses on the action-mobilizing, health-enhancing, and mood-buffering impacts of hope and optimism, some investigations suggest the opposite:

    Is Optimistic View of the Future Associated with Disabilities, Shorter Life Expectancy?

    Though a hopeful, optimistic view of the future may not be completely realistic, it makes daily life more pleasant:
    Useful Fiction: Optimism Bias of Positive Illusions –

  2. Pingback: Still Fulfilling Your New Year’s Resolutions? | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

  3. Pingback: Multiple Paths Toward Goals Can Motivate, then Derail Success | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

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