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Asking Yourself How Many Times You’ll Skip The Gym Is The Best Motivation To Go

New Years Resolution list
Honestly asking yourself what you won’t do is the key to motivation.
  • New research reveals that questioning yourself can be an effective tool for meeting your goals
  • Setting specific goals is most useful
  • Being realistic and honest about what you might not achieve is the key to achieving the most unattainable goals 

We all set goals for ourselves, from how many times we will attend the gym or how much money we will save each month to what time we will go to bed or even how many calories we’ll eat each day. But despite our best intentions and all the motivation we believe we have, we’re not always the best at meeting them.

Our goals in our personal and professional lives are a reflection of our ambition and, for good or ill, human nature is such that our ambitions often outstrip what we’re actually able to achieve.

But what if we were more honest about our personal downfalls? Well according to new research from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), honestly asking yourself what you won’t do is the key to boosting your motivation and successfully meeting your goal.

Dr Mirjam Tuk and Dr Bram van den Bergh from RSM along with Professor Sonja Prokopec from ESSEC Business School have proved that focusing on what you won’t achieve can influence you to accomplish more ambitious goals.

Dr Tuk says, “When you want to achieve more ambitious goals it is more effective to think about how many times you will not work towards your goal. So, think about how many times you want to skip the gym this week, and you will end up going more often.”

In order to discover this, the researchers asked study participants to set specific goal levels for a variety of activities.

This question was always framed in one of two ways; participants were either asked to indicate how many goal-consistent acts they planned to do, or how many they planned to skip. For example, students were asked to either specify how many hours they planned to study for a course or how many hours they planned to skip. A different set of students was asked how many vegetables they planned to eat over a specific time period or how many they would skip eating. Yet another group was asked how many different tasks they would want to do versus forego in order to raise money for charity.

They found focusing on the potential to fall short of a target provided more motivation to succeed overall. Students planned to study more when asked how many study hours they would skip – rather than spend – and that students planned to eat more vegetables (and actually did eat more!) when asked how many they would avoid rather than consume. In fact, all the groups that were asked how often they would skip their goals were ultimately more successful in meeting them.

The researchers say the study findings provide vital lessons to be learned for people and societies trying, and often failing to adapt their behaviour through goal-setting.

The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has highlighted many of the serious health issues in our society, as health experts sought to identify those who might be more susceptible to the virus. Whilst we all understand the importance of good public health in general, the corona crisis has given governments all over the world the motivation to enhance the focus of their policy-making towards encouraging better health and wellbeing to help protect their populations. This often involves encouraging people to save more, exercise more, and eat more healthily. But, according to Dr Tuk and Dr Van den Bergh’s research, it appears they are going the wrong way about it.

Whereas the default approach to goal-setting is thinking about how many goal-directed activities you want to engage in, like how much of your discretionary income to save, and working towards meeting that target, this research shows that taking the exact opposite approach is ultimately the most effective way for you to succeed.

Dr van den Bergh says, “It is of vital importance for individuals and also for many organisations to get people to reach more ambitious goals – such as saving more, working more efficiently, eating more healthily and exercising more. This study provides evidence for a highly effective nudge that prompts people to set more ambitious goals which in turn also increases their performance.”

The study offers valuable insights for business leaders also, as most people not only set goals for themselves for their personal lives but their professional ambitions also. The researchers advise that setting specific goals are often more effective than vague, generic aims to ‘do your best’. Also, when you’re setting goals for yourself and your company, it’s crucial to be honest with yourself about your abilities and state of affairs.

Perhaps this advice isn’t the most inspiring – after all, it’s certainly far more thrilling to hear that you should aim as high as you dare to dream and that you can achieve anything that you set your mind to. But by being more realistic and honest with yourself about what you might not achieve, you may just find more motivation to move forward and, for once, achieve your goals.

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