Setting New Year’s Resolutions May Be Counterproductive Study Explains Why Consumers Stray From Goals
New Haven, Conn., December 8, 2005—
January 1 is around the corner and New Year’s resolutions to save money, lose weight, and stop smoking are being contemplated. A study from the Yale School of Management and the University of Chicago helps explain who will stick to their goals and who will stray.
“Goals as Excuses or Guides: The Liberating Effect of Perceived Goal Progress on Choice” by Ravi Dhar of the Yale School of Management and Ayelet Fishbach of the University of Chicago examines why consumers often make choices that conflict with their goals. For example, one may set a goal to lose weight but stop for ice cream on the way home from the gym. The authors found that an individual’s choices will be consistent with a goal if she is focused on commitment to the goal and will be inconsistent if she is focused on monitoring progress towards the goal.
To determine the effect of goals on choice, the authors conducted four experiments. In one, dieters were asked to evaluate how far they are from their ideal weight and were then offered a choice of an apple or a chocolate bar as a gift for participating in the survey. Those who rated themselves as being closest to their ideal weight, or in other words, felt they had made progress in losing weight, overwhelmingly chose the chocolate bar—85 percent compared to 58 percent of people who felt they were further from their ideal weight.
“There is a degree of irony in this,” said Professor Dhar. “If you believe that you are making progress towards a goal it can lead you to make choices that move you farther away from actually attaining it.”
According to the authors, focusing on perceived progress towards a goal frequently liberates an individual to pursue another, incompatible goal. For example, opening a new savings account can be enough to suggest that a goal of saving for the future is being actively pursued and, as a result, the saver may feel that spending money on indulgences is justified. However, if the individual focuses on the commitment implied by setting a goal, Dhar and Fishbach’s research shows that if the action taken reinforces goal commitment, then there is a higher likelihood of similar actions and less straying from the initial goal.
So, for all those New Year’s resolutions expected next month, the key to being successful is to think about the initial commitment to the goal and not about the progress being made. Citation: Journal of Consumer Research
, December 2005.