Different things motivate different people in different ways, which is why we have been doing a series on motivation in recent weeks. However, did you know that when we’re close to reaching our goal and we compare how much progress we’ve made to how little we have yet to go, we tend to put on the brakes and self-sabotage? I’ve done it, and I bet you have too. This week, we’re discussing how to keep your momentum and increase your velocity toward your goal when you’re close to the finish line. The secret? Where you place your focus.
A 2005 study by Fishbach and Dhar evaluated the effect of perceived goal progress on motivation or continued pursuit of a goal. When someone is pursuing a goal and has almost reached it, looking in the rearview mirror at the progress already made does influence their motivation, especially when the finish line is in sight. You would expect that seeing the light at the end of the tunnel would keep you committed and on track, but that’s not the case. Many studies have looked at this phenomenon and found that people often take actions that derail them when they are over halfway to reaching their goal.
Essentially, people who get to the halfway point or just a little beyond that, perceive that there’s not that much left to go, so they can pump the brakes a bit. Their motivation begins to wane because they have this internal message that’s saying they don’t need to continue working so hard. When that happens, it can cause you to self-sabotage your goal (by going out with your friends every night instead of doing the work you need to do, for instance) and thus, get even further away, or not reach the goal at all.
Another study was conducted on fifty-two university graduates who were either going to their workout or had just completed their workout. They were asked to rate the effectiveness of their accomplished (or upcoming) workout session using a 10-point scale. They also asked them to rate their desire to have a fatty meal after that workout. Those who said they were happy with their workout scored higher in the desire to have a fatty meal, which some might say runs counter to staying fit and working out. They were taking actions that were incongruent with their desired goal of staying fit and would undermine that goal.
I get that it can feel good to look back at where you started when you get to the halfway point of a goal. That may seem like it will motivate you, but it can have the opposite effect. So how do you maintain that momentum when you get 50% of the way there? There are three theories on that:
Goal Gradient Effect
There is a theory called the goal gradient effect presented in 1932 by Clark Hull. It’s the phenomenon that says when someone gets close to their goal, they can focus on the finish line instead of the starting point, and then speed up their behaviors to quickly achieve the goal. For instance, if you are running a marathon, it can be helpful to visualize the finish line of the race instead of thinking about where you started from. When your attention is on the finish line as opposed to your perceived progress, you can avoid self-sabotage.
The Small Area Theory
The small area theory, presented by Koo and Fishbach in 2012, states that focusing on small areas of reaching a goal increases your motivation because it creates the illusion that actions are impactful. Think about it—when you first start going after a goal, focusing on the small parts of that big goal can help you stay motivated. If you’ve never run before and you want to run a marathon, it can be demotivating to think about the enormous task of running more than twenty-six miles. If you instead focus on running one mile, then two, then three, those smaller goals feel more impactful as you are getting going.
When you’re over halfway to your goal, you can apply this theory, but instead, focus on the actions in the small area you have left to reach the finish line. That helps you keep moving closer to completion.
Lastly, there is intrinsic motivation, which can help you visualize and become emotionally connected with your goal. This can help keep you determined when taking steps to reach your goal. As an example, I am in a doctoral program and have two of four years of school completed. Two-thirds of the coursework was completed over the past two years, but I still have two years to go, and moving forward can feel daunting at times. As a student, if I keep looking in the rearview mirror, it’s not as motivating as it is to look forward to the day when I’ll receive my doctorate degree. There are intrinsic variables that help keep me connected to this goal.
Extrinsically there are assignments to complete, expectations to meet, and financial ties to my goal, but those things aren’t going to keep me on track. Extrinsic variables are not going to help me maintain the joy I have within this process. That joy is part of the intrinsic motivation that keeps me moving forward when things get difficult or overwhelming. I know that I am tapped into my purpose and I’m able to boil all of these studies down into these nuggets of wisdom that I can share with you! My mission in life is to help others get out of the rat race and live their best lives, and by looking at my coursework through an intrinsic motivation lens, I can see that all the work I am doing is helping me fulfill that purpose. I stay motivated by aligning with my higher purpose of helping others.
If you are halfway to your goal and struggling to stay on track, try shifting your focus ahead instead of back. Look forward to the finish line so that you don’t stall your motivation and velocity. Look at the gap between where you are and where you need to be in order to maintain your determination. Focus on actions that feel good, that are moving the needle, and that are important and impactful. Lastly, tap into your intrinsic motivation! This can be through auto-suggestion: living in your goal, envisioning your goal, and experiencing it through your five senses (or read some past blogs here about visualizing your goal and getting emotionally interlocked with it). Connecting what you are doing right now to your higher purpose helps brings your “why” into focus and can keep you motivated on an intrinsic level.
Think about the goal you are working on now. Imagine you’ve reached the finish line. See yourself celebrating with the people that you love. Envision the impact you’re having on others because you’ve reached this goal. Give yourself some time with this visualization so you can feel it deep down inside yourself. Now, has your perception shifted? Are you feeling reinvigorated? Great! Start thinking about what you can do today to move in the direction of that goal. Write anything down that comes to mind and then take that inspired action. Remember, everything is created twice, first in your imagination, and then in physical form.
If you have questions or comments, I would love to hear them! Go to https://www.ratracereboot.com/ and leave us a review. And if you want more of what I’ve been teaching you, you’re in luck because I have distilled them down and put them into my upcoming book! Look for Rat Race Reboot: Unlock Your Full Potential to Achieve Impossible Goals this fall! Sign up here (https://lauranoelcc.com/ratracereboot) to be the first to know when it drops and learn about the goodies that come with it!