Tag Archives: Goal Setting

Working toward Goals with “Implementation Intentions”

Heidi Grant Halvorson

Heidi Grant Halvorson

People are motivated by goals that provide opportunities for:

  • -Relatedness to others,
  • -Competence in skillfully performing,
  • -Autonomy in directing effort, according to Columbia’s Heidi Grant Halvorson of Columbia University.
Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink

This model aligns with Daniel Pink’s emphasis on:

  • Autonomy: Controlling work content and context,
  • Mastery: Improving skill in work over time through persistence, effort, corrective feedback,
  • Purpose: Being part of an inspiring goal.Halvorson advocated an incremental approach to “get better” in achieving goals rather than to simply achieve the goal.

Juliana Breines

To move toward “better,” she suggested acknowledging mistakes with kindness and understanding to cultivate self-compassion.
This approach was validated by Berkeley’s Juliana Breines and Serena Chen and University of Texas‘s Kristin Neff, who found that performance in various contexts increased when using self-compassion instead of self-criticism.

Additional ways to move closer toward goals include Halvorson’s suggestions to:

Serena Chen

-Consider the larger context of specific productive actions, 

-Define reasons for doing what needs to be done (such as exercising for 20 minutes, starting on a project),

-Use “implementation intentions,” a formula to prepare responses for challenging triggers:

If “x” occurs (specify time, place, circumstance),
then I will respond by doing, thinking, saying “y.”

    • “When I feel anxious, I will focus on inhaling and exhaling slowly for 60 seconds.”
      “When it’s 7 am, I will walk for 10 minutes,”

Kristin Neff

-Use implementation intention routines (habits) for “strategic automation” to reduce decision-overload that may reduce self-control and will-power,

-Focus on something interesting for five minutes to evoke positive feelings,

-Review “small wins” and progress toward goals.

Teresa Amabile

Teresa Amabile

“Catalysts” and “nourishers” that enable goal persistence were uncovered by Stanford’s Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer‘s study of employees at seven companies:

    • Capitalize on preferred motivational style:
      -“Promotion-focused” (maximize gains, avoid missed opportunities, powered by optimism),
      -“Prevention-focused” (minimize losses, variance, powered by cautious pessimism)
    • Build willpower by committing to one specific, positively-stated behavior change (“walking for 10 minutes a day, every day” instead of “not sitting around all day”)
    • Apply “implementation intentions
    • Protect willpower reserves by selecting  a limited number of achievable goals
    • Enlist “mental contrasting” to think positively about the satisfaction of achieving the goal.
Carol Dweck

Carol Dweck

Halvorson collaborated with Stanford’s Carol Dweck and quoted Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right” to underscore the value of optimistic engagement with goals.

Henry Ford

Henry Ford

They synthesized Dweck’s work on “mindsets” with Halvorson’s recommendations for setting, monitoring, protecting, executing, and celebrating goals.  

An earlier post outlined Dweck’s definitions of mindsets:

• Fixed Mindset:  Belief that personal capabilities are given, fixed, limited to present capacities, associated with fear, anxiety, protectiveness and guardedness,

• Growth Mindset:  View that personal capabilities can expand based on commitment, effort, practice, instruction, confronting and correcting mistakes, linked to nurturing teamwork and collaboration.

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

Columbia’s Peter Gollwitzer a refined “mindsets” by distinguishing the Deliberative Mindset of evaluating which goals to pursue versus the Implemental Mindset of planning goal execution.

His team found that the Deliberative Mindset is associated with:

              • Accurate, impartial analysis of goal feasibility and desirability,
              • Open-mindedness.

In contrast, the Implemental Mindset is linked with:

              • Optimistic, partial analysis of goal feasibility and desirability,
              • Closed-mindedness.

Halvorson, Dweck and Gollwitzer’s translated their research on self-determination and motivation into practical recommendations for goal seekers:

              • Adopt a supportive “mindset,”
              • Practice “self-compassion” in addressing setbacks to achieving goals,
              • Design effective triggers and responses,
              • Use “implementation intentions” and “strategic automation” toward desired self-managed goals,
              • Consider incremental progress toward goals.

-*What approaches help you work toward goals?

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Clearly-Imagined Future Self Enables More Effective Goal Planning

Most people choose near-term payoffs over distant benefits, often leading to poor outcomes when the future arrives.

Hal Hersfield

Hal Hersfield

Many individuals have difficulty envisioning a personal future because a distant time horizon is more abstract than the tangible reality of an extended present.
This bias toward short-term rewards generally leads to inadequate planning for future eventualities, like health care and financial requirements.

However, making the intangible future more concrete alters this near-term preference.

Laura Carstensen

Laura Carstensen

Volunteers received a visual aid to clearly imagining a future self by viewing a current photo of themselves or a digitally-aged photo from the same present-day view in a study by NYU’s Hal Hershfield collaborating with Daniel Goldstein of London Business School, Stanford’s  William F. SharpeLaura CarstensenJeremy Bailenson, and Leo Yeykelis plus Jesse Fox of Ohio State University.

Jeremy Bailenson

Jeremy Bailenson

The team asked participants in each group to estimate the amount of their income they would save for retirement.
People who saw their aged photos said they would save substantially more money than those who saw the present-day image.

Leo Yeykelis

Leo Yeykelis

When participants interacted with realistic, immersive age-progressed renderings of themselves, they tended to defer present rewards for future monetary rewards.

Hershfield and collaborators argued that the aged photos are vivid, less-deniable glimpses of a personal future.
These images enabled people to more realistically imagine their distant future lives by enhancing their experience of “self-continuity” over time.

Jesse Fox

Jesse Fox

Financial planners, health care advisors, and life insurers have applied these findings by developing a commercial version of this future self-image, to enable people to develop more realistic savings and retirement strategies for a tangible future self.

Emily Pronin

Emily Pronin

Another team’s findings supported Hershfield’s suggestion that people view their future selves as “other” and alien rather than personally relevant and meaningful.

Christopher Olivola

Christopher Olivola

Princeton’s Emily Pronin, Christopher Olivola, now of University of Warwick and Kathleen Kennedy, now of Columbia, asked participants to estimate the amount of an unsavory liquid mixture they would be willing to drink immediately and in several months to advance scientific knowledge.
In addition, volunteers estimated the amount of this liquid that another participant should drink.

Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen Kennedy

Most volunteers judged that they would drink more in the future and that others should drink about the same amount.
However, participants estimated that they would drink only about half as much if consumed immediately.

This suggests that judgments about the future self and unknown other people are similarly distant from the present self.

These time perception biases include:

  • Quasi-hyperbolic time discounting, which leads most people to make an inter-temporal choice for a smaller payoff in the present instead of a larger payoff in the future.
    They attributed this trend to discounting a less-imaginable future payoff for a more tangible, nearer-term benefit.
  • Affective forecasting errors, described in a previous blog post, leading to inaccurate predictions of future choices, preferences, emotional reactions, and behaviors due to:
    • Projection biasAssuming that a present state will occur at a future time in a different circumstance,
    • Impact bias Overestimating future emotional responses to adverse events, and underestimating adaptability and coping,
    • Narrow bracketing — Considering individual decisions and outcomes without reference to context or long-term additive effects with other decisions and circumstances.

-*How do you overcome biases to plan for future goals and needs?

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Still Fulfilling Your New Year’s Resolutions?

-*Did New Year’s Resolutions fade as quickly as the month of January?

Katherine Milkman

Katherine Milkman

If so, University of Pennsylvania Katherine Milkman has a recommendation to resume the good intentions toward goals: “Nudges”—small environmental interventions that can shift behavior to increase adherence to challenging commitments, whether at work or in personal life.

Hengchen Dai

Hengchen Dai

Milkman collaborated with Wharton colleague Hengchen Dai and Harvard’s Jason Riis to investigate “temporal turning points” – moments that feel like a new beginning, like New Year’s Day or beginning a new job or school.

Jason Riis

Jason Riis

Milkman, Riis, and Dai reported several examples of the “fresh start effect”:  They found that the number of online Google searches for the term “diet” increase following temporal landmarks like the beginning of a new week, month, year, or semester; a birthday or a holiday.
The largest increase—82% above the baseline—occurred immediately after New Year’s Day for nine years they studied.

Similarly, the number of gym visits of 12,000 undergraduates over 18 months increased in January, then declined, with smaller increases at the beginning of each week, each month, and each term.

 This pattern also occurred among 43,000 participants in a goal-setting website, stickK, over 30 months.

Members can set goals and contractually agree to consequences for failing to attain them, such as community sanctions to monetary payments to disliked organizations.
The greatest number of contracts—145% above the average rate—were signed at the beginning of the New Year, and more contracts were signed at the beginning of each week.

Richard Thaler

Richard Thaler

Commitments to pursue and return to goals increase after these “notational boundary,” described by Richard Thaler of University of Chicago.
A temporally-triggered “fresh start” can compensate for limited willpower and persistence by giving people a chance to restart their commitments.

Besides “temporal turning points,” self-designed “nudges” can be contingency plans for a specific corrective action when confronted with the temptation to deviate from the goal path: “Whenever situation x arises, I will initiate the goal-directed response y.”

Peter Gollwitzer

Peter Gollwitzer

New York University’s Peter Gollwitzer calls these mitigation plans “implementation intentions,” which result in better adherence to goal-directed efforts when developed before tempting situational cues.

Stephen Ciccone

Stephen Ciccone

The stock market’s “January Effect” of better-than-average performance early in the year may result from the “fresh start” phenomenon, although Stephen J. Ciccone of University of New Hampshire argues that it may be more affected by investor optimism and the “false hope syndrome.”

Janet Polivy

Janet Polivy

University of Toronto’s Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman describe the “false hope syndrome’s” unrealistic expectations about the likely speed, amount, ease, and consequences of self-change attempts, and subsequent disappointment of these optimistic aspirations.

Ciccone found that investor sentiment, as measured by the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Confidence, peaks in January and suggested that optimistic bid up stock prices of firms with higher levels of uncertainty.

C. Peter Herman

C. Peter Herman

Typically, these firms are unable to meet the optimistic expectations, and disappoint investors when they under-perform.
However, this pattern continues each year, probably due to the combined impact of  “fresh start effect” and the “false hope syndrome.”

Unrealistic optimism has been well-documented in overestimates of personal abilities, future performance and the impact of achieving goals, as well as underestimates of the time and effort to achieve goals.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett of Clark University found that both 200 adolescents and more than 200 adults held optimistic biases regarding the risks of smoking even though the strong majorities of smokers and nonsmokers in these groups agreed that smoking is addictive and causes death for “most people” who smoke.

However, the adolescent and adult smokers doubted that they would die from smoking even if they smoked for 30 or 40 years, and most adolescents believed that they “could smoke for a few years and then quit.”

Roger Buehler

Likewis Roger Buehler

Likewise, most people underestimate time required to complete tasks, called “planning fallacy”  by Wilfred Laurier University’s Roger Buehler, Dale Griffin of University British Columbia and University of Waterloo’s Michael Ross.

Dale Griffin

Dale Griffin

They found that 465 volunteers:

  • Underestimated their own but not others’ completion times for academic and nonacademic tasks
  • Focused on future plans rather than comparing with similar past experiences when making completions time estimates
  • Attributed their past errors in predicting completion times to external, transient, and specific factors, implying less personal accountability for misjudgments.
Mike Ross

Mike Ross

Volunteers were able to eliminate their bias toward inaccurately optimistic estimates when they explicitly considered connect relevant past experiences to inform current estimates.

Fiona Jones

Fiona Jones

The optimism bias can be reduced by setting modest, attainable goals, according to University of Leeds’ Fiona Jones and Adrian Coggins with Peter Harris of University of Sussex and University of Hertfordshire’s Hilary Waller.

They compared 119 volunteers’ expectations about their participation in a twelve-week-long exercise course and their actual attendance, and found that participants who set smaller goals were more likely to achieve and maintain the goal behavior over time.

-*How effective are “temporal turning points” to initiate and re-start positive behaviors toward your goals?
-*How do you guard against optimism bias and “false hope syndrome” in planning and executing toward your goals?

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Blog – Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary  
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LinkedIn Open Group Psychology in Human Resources (Organisational Psychology)
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