Do we really want some wriggle room to cheat on our goals?

When we set goals, I’m sure we like to think we’ll set out with the very best intention of meeting that goal.  Whilst that might make us feel better about ourselves, a recent study suggests that we might actually like a bit of slack so we can cheat a little.

The research found that we much prefer goals that allow us to cheat a little on them than more rigid ones, even if they’re very easy to achieve.

Why we love slack

The researchers wanted to test the impact on our goal chasing if the goal had a bit of slack built into it (just for emergencies you understand).  When the data was analyzed, it emerged that these kind of goals not only got people more engaged, but they persisted with them for longer than rigid, if easier, goals.

The theory behind this is that the stretch goal makes us feel good about ourselves, whilst the emergency let-off gives us a bit of breathing space, thus giving us the best of both hard and easy goals.  We’re often sufficiently motivated by the challenge, whilst using the emergency buffer makes us feel bad enough to not dip into it too often.

We can easily see this playing out in life today, as so much of what we do can be tracked and monitored.  We can easily fall into the trap of giving ourselves very little slack as we restlessly monitor all that we do.

The paper suggests that the best thing for us to do is to set ourselves ambitions goals.  As with many new technologies, there can be a tendency to measure things just because we can rather than because we must.

As we enter the new year however, I’m sure many of you will be setting goals, whether for yourself or your organization.  Maybe this finding will help you set ones that stick.


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