Should goal-strivers think about “why” or “how” to strive? It depends on their skill level

Abstract

The current studies attempted to increase individuals’ internalization of their own difficult or unpleasant goals, using either a low-level or a high-level writing intervention. Two writing studies showed that an appropriate match between level of goal-relevant skill (low versus high) and level of prompted goal-cognition (low versus high) enhances motivation. Those lower in initial skills were more likely to internalize their goals over time (Studies 1 and 2) and report greater goal expectancies (Study 2) if they wrote about the “how” of the goals, whereas those higher in initial skills were more likely to experience these positive outcomes by writing about the “why” of goals. This interaction pattern was found in both a short-term experimental study of health goals (Study 1) and in a 2 month longitudinal study of academic goals (Study 2). Results are discussed in the context of action identification theory and of self-regulation, which emphasize allocating attention to the right level of abstraction for optimal functioning.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Study 2, females and males differ in their level of internalization towards their academic goals at both times internalization was assessed. In Study 1, although internalization of the health goal did not vary by gender, we chose to include gender in the analyses to keep our analyses consistent. We note that results of Study 1 were essentially the same with or without the inclusion of gender as a control variable.

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Correspondence to Yuna L. Ferguson.

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Ferguson, Y.L., Sheldon, K.M. Should goal-strivers think about “why” or “how” to strive? It depends on their skill level. Motiv Emot 34, 253–265 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-010-9174-9

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Keywords

  • Self-determination theory
  • Action-identification theory
  • Goal implementation
  • Personal goals
  • Internalization
  • Goal expectancy