April 24, 2016

Experiencing immediate rewards predicts adherence to long term goals

Often the reason we pursue long term goals is that we find those goals valuable. For example, we may try to eat healthier or to exercise more because we want to age healthy. Another example: we study because we we want to have better career opportunities in our future. In four studies, Woolley and Fishbach (2016) show that the importance of these long term goals does not predict whether we will adhere to them but whether we experience immediate rewards from doing them.

The value we assign to the long term goals is actually the reason that we set the goal and that we start the pursuit of the goal but experiencing immediate rewards is probably the reason we stick to it. When we realize this we can try to make activities aimed at achieving long term goals as rewarding as possible. For example we may choose a form of exercise we find enjoyable. Or we may make exercising more pleasurable by listening to music as we exercise. If you want to study to improve your long term career perspective it is probably wise to choose a subject which you find interesting. If you have to study, do it in place in which you find comfortable or with someone you like. These are just a few examples of how you experience immediate reward while working on your long term goals.
Immediate Rewards Predict Adherence to Long Term Goals
Woolley and Fishbach (2016)

Abstract: People primarily pursue long term goals, such as exercising and studying, in order to receive delayed rewards (e.g., improved health and higher grades). However, we find that the presence of immediate rewards, rather than delayed rewards, predicts persistence in goal-related activities. Immediate rewards (e.g., enjoyment) more strongly predict current persistence at New Year’s resolutions than do delayed rewards (Study 1). Further, immediate rewards are stronger predictors of persistence in a single session of studying and exercising than are delayed rewards, even though people report primarily pursuing these activities for their delayed rewards (Studies 2-3). Lastly, we demonstrate that immediate rewards more strongly predict persistence in healthy habits (exercise and healthy eating) than do delayed rewards, both over short and long time frames (Study 4). Thus whereas delayed rewards may motivate goal setting and the intentions to pursue long-term goals, immediate rewards are more strongly associated with actual goal pursuit.

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