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Scientists have discovered the key to reaching your goals: Don’t keep your eyes on the prize

Want to reach your goals? A study finds that when setting them, you need to focus on the efforts required—not the rewards.

Scientists have discovered the key to reaching your goals: Don’t keep your eyes on the prize
[Photo: Marvin Meyer/Unsplash]
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Want to reach your goals? A groundbreaking new study finds that when setting them, you need to focus on the efforts required—not the rewards.

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There are two stages to reaching your goal: First comes choosing the goal, when you think, “Oh, I’ll write that book / go to grad school / run a marathon.” At this stage, you are motivated by the rewards. Then comes actually doing the work, where you perform the necessary activities. In this long latter stage, you’re focused on the difficulty of your efforts—and it’s this doing part that fouls people up. (See: all the times you embarked on a life-changing project and . . . didn’t do it.)

The problem is that our minds are unable to perceive huge discrepancies between rewards and the amount of effort required to achieve them.

The key to bypassing this mental glitch is to simply think about the efforts required. Imagine yourself typing away late at night on your book after a long work day, or studying for the GRE on a sunny Saturday, or waking up at 5 a.m. on a cold morning to train for that marathon.

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If those sound horrible, you’re probably not going to reach those goals, no matter how shiny and appealing the eventual rewards would be.

“High rewards are not enough to ensure people put in the effort they need to achieve their targets,” said Agata Ludwiczak, the study’s coauthor and a research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, in a statement. “There isn’t a direct relationship between the amount of reward that is at stake and the amount of effort people actually put in.”

In other words, don’t keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on the work.