One of the first things we learn about motivation is to keep our eyes on the finish line. We're taught to set goals and be mindful of them while we engage in whatever it is we're trying to accomplish. The trouble is, the very act of visualising those goals may make you less likely to achieve them.
As insights blog 99U points out, thinking about goals may boost your initial motivation to engage in an activity but focusing instead on whatever pleasures that activity offers can help you perform better. For example, when you start an exercise program, you may be tempted to think about the end results: a slim, more powerful you. But focusing on the immediate benefits of the exercise will help you more in the long run:
Focusing on goals fires up your intentions to engage in the activities that will help you achieve those goals. But there's a major downside. Stay focused on your goals and you spoil your experience of the activities you'll need to pursue. In turn, that makes it far more likely that you'll drop out early and fail to achieve the very goals that you're so focused on.
If this is reminding you of the classic distinction in the psychological literature between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation, you're spot on. This is the finding that external rewards can backfire. Offer a child treats for making pretty drawings and whereas they used to scribble away for the sheer joy of it, now they'll only put pen to paper for that candy you promised. The difference here is that Fishbach and Choi believe that our intrinsic motivation can be imperiled even without the offer of rewards from a third party. By focusing on the ultimate goals of an activity, we risk destroying our intrinsic motivation all by ourselves.
The important thing really is the journey and not the destination. Check out 99U's post below to read the full story and about the study behind it.