Sticking to your goal requires a moving target

overwhelmed by the goalYou’ve done the maths and calculated how many kilograms you need to lose in order to win the war against those extra pounds. Setting the target is only step one, you’ve decided to lose x number of kilograms on multiple occasions, but having a goal, is not quite the same as achieving it.

This week’s Neurotechnology Tip applies a little neurotechnology to goal sticking, so you can follow through on those good intentions and complete the job.

Good intentions need monitoring

Goal setting requires careful monitoring of progress.

Research from the University of Chicago, suggests how you monitor your progress is critical, what you do, ultimately impacts on how well you progress.

The researchers weren’t studying weight loss goals, instead they were looking at consumer rewards programmes. The desired goal in their study was to gather enough points to win a prize, the prize was a free cup of coffee. Caffeine spoon

You’d think prizes would be a big enough motivator, but most consumers never actually win “the prize”, because they fail to follow through.

Two ways to look at it

Consumers aiming to complete a goal can approach it from either end. If the target is to get to 10 points….

  • They can pay attention to the number of points they’ve completed, in other words, start at 1 and keeping adding to 10 or
  • They can pay attention to how many points they still need, to reach the goal i.e. start at 10 and subtract down

At first glance, both strategies should work.

Small-area hypothesis

The strategies don’t work equally well – which strategy is right, depends on how far along you are in achieving the goal.counting up towards the goal

The research team found people’s motivation improved when they focused on the smaller number.


  • When consumers were at the beginning of the process, and they needed to earn 9 points to get a free coffee, starting at the beginning and counting up, was empowering, moving from 0 to 1 point felt good and highly motivating. But if they were counting down and still had 9 points to go, the 9 points felt pretty intimidating, so motivation was low.
  • By the time the consumers were near the end, thinking that they only have 1 or 2 more points to earn, felt a lot more exciting and appealing, than tallying up the 9 points.

Motivation is a numbers game

The thinking behind the phenomenon relates to perceived impact.counting down towards the goal

As soon as one feels that doing something will make an impact, doing it becomes more attractive. Things appear more impactful when the numbers are smaller.

Manipulate your brain

Sticking with anything requires guts and determination.

Make it easier on yourself by using a little neurotechnology. Give your brain a moving target. Count up when you first start, but once you hit the half way mark, count down.

So……..celebrate when you lose 1 kg even if you have 9 more to go. But as you progress towards your goal of losing 10 kg, switch gears and tell yourself you only have 4 more kilograms to go and help yourself keep going.

The Small-Area Hypothesis: Effects of Progress Monitoring on Goal Adherence. Journal of Consumer Research, (2012)  Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach.

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Further reading

exercising for better health killer cookies fat cells creeping out while women is sleeping
How to choose an exercise programme you will stick with How to avoid wearing edible Christmas gifts on your hips If you don’t include this in your diet – you won’t lose fat

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

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Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

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  2. By » Blog Archive » Round up 28 May – 1 June on June 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm

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