Brain Training & Fitness, Brain Training Research

Your Happy New Year, Goal-Setting Secret: Incremental Steps For The Win

The ambition, anticipation, and apprehension of a new year is here again; it is time to set some goals! January is the annual opportunity for re-evaluation and intentional planning, vision-casting and goal-setting. We hear the same message from work and church and news and social media: the path to happiness in 2022 is paved with lofty goals. Yet for many of us, the frustration and disappointment of failure to achieve goals is a strong deterrent for typical New Year’s resolutions.

Research published in Health Psychology Review described the difference between performance goals and learning goals. While performance goals may help us visualize a final outcome, learning goals ensure we get there. For example, a performance goal might be, “I want to have $12,000 in my savings account by the end of this year.” Thus the learning goal for that outcome would need to be, “I will cut expenses and increase income so that I can put $1000 into savings every single month for this year.” The learning goal helps facilitate the pursuit of the performance goal. And research shows the vital importance of setting those incremental learning goals…instead of haphazardly pressing toward a performance goal.

Additionally, the journal of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes includes an article on the discrepancy of perceived difficulty between goals of perpetuation and goals of achievement. Over the course of three different studies, researchers evaluated participant perceptions of modest, large, or maintenance goals. While the objective function of a goal to maintain current efficacy may be “easiest” it doesn’t translate as such in human perception. Instead, incremental or modest goals create a finish line that actually feels easier to achieve.

What does that mean for you and me? Despite those frustrating failures, goal-setting does indeed help us achieve forward motion. The sustainment of status-quo on the other hand, ultimately feels more difficult and results in greater failure.

Bite-sized learning goals throughout the new year will offer maximum opportunities for growth and increasing success. Incremental steps for the win!


Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

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