Letting your friends and family know you’ve set out to accomplish an ambitious goal may help you stay committed to your plan, according to a new study. Receiving some meaningful feedback fairly quickly after encountering a setback can also be very helpful, as well as reminding yourself of why you decided to accomplish the feat in the first place.
Some goals are as simple as getting in the gym three days a week, while others are a bit more complex. Perhaps you’ve been planning on writing a novel or screenplay for years but just haven’t found the time. There are only so many hours in each day, and complications or failures are inevitable in the pursuit of our goals. When these events occur, it can be discouraging, and sometimes it feels easier to just give up altogether.
Researchers at Binghamton University conducted a series of experiments focused on recovering from a setback in pursuit of a goal, and came to a few interesting conclusions that may just help you pick yourself up and stay focused the next time you encounter failure on your way to success.
Paramount among their findings was the revelation that individuals who are particularly prone to caring about other peoples’ opinions (aren’t we all, to some degree?) usually stay committed to their goals if they’ve announced them publicly.
“Everyone sets goals, and some people choose to make those goals public instead of keeping them private. Everyone also fails to meet goals from time to time,” says Jenny Jiao, an assistant professor of marketing at Binghamton University’s School of Management, in a press release. “We were interested in finding out what happens after a failure.”
All of the experiments in the study involved participants being asked to complete a particular task, subsequently being told they had failed that task and then being given an additional opportunity to try again if they so desired. The research team added a number of variations to this outline in order to test the influence of public acknowledgment, incentives, and feedback.
“If your public reputation is something you hold in high regard, then failing publicly is probably going to push you to not want to fail publicly again. There is a greater chance you’re going to try hitting that goal again,” Jiao explains.
On the other hand, if you find it easy to disregard the opinions of others, the number of people you tell about your plans probably won’t influence your resolve in the face of adversity. If you fall into this category but are still in need of some help reaching your goals, the research team also found that some immediate feedback in the face of a setback can help. Try reaching out to a trusted friend after a failure in pursuit of your goal, their perspective or advice on the situation may make all the difference in motivating you to stay on track.
“If someone gives you immediate feedback, you then start thinking about what you could’ve done better,” Jiao comments. “If that feedback is delayed, then you’ve probably found ways to justify your failure, and you’re less likely to pick your goal back up.”
Finally, the study also noted that keeping your eye on the prize or reminding yourself of the incentives that motivated you to get started in the first place, can help overcome the urge to give up. Perhaps predictably, researchers say the bigger the prize waiting for you at the end of the road, the more likely you’ll be to ignore failures on your way.
“You may reassess a goal after failing and realize that it may not be worth the effort,” Jiao adds. “However, if there is a reward that you perceive as being very valuable, it’s going to keep pushing you towards reaching that goal.”
Besides just personal goals, the study’s authors say their work may prove to be invaluable for the business world as well; understanding what helps keep people committed to exercise regimens or new hobbies could go a long way towards retaining customers.
Setbacks are a fact of life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream big. After all, if our goals were simple and easily achieved, it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying when we finally reach the mountaintop.
You can find the full study here, published in the Journal of Consumer Behaviour.