I have a confession to make: I don't like getting beaten. That doesn't mean that I'm a 'sore-loser' or suffer a 'meltdown' if things don't go my way.
It's more about feeling 'cheesed-off' when the goals I have set myself are not realized-my diet doesn't go as planned, I missed out on making it to the next rung on the ladder, my golf handicap is not going in the direction I'd like to see it go, and so on. It seems that I'm not Robinson Crusoe: my outcome is quite common.
People set goals for most things. When we fail to achieve a goal, we see it as a loss. When we achieve (or exceed) a goal, it is a gain. And, the psychology associated with goal-setting indicates time-and-time again, that failure to reach the goal (the sense of loss) results in much stronger feelings than any desire to exceed that goal (the sense of gain).
Consider these two examples.
Salespeople drive themselves to make sales - especially when making budget is a success-indicator. The sense of urgency to make the sale dissipates (even unconsciously) when exceeding budget is the principal motivation. As a Bushman of the Kalahari clicked when asked what made a successful hunter, 'Hunger makes a hunter'.
Golf, too, provides a great example. Most golfers feel satisfied if they can achieve par. One stroke over par is a bogey and is a loss (assuming par was the goal). A birdie is one stroke under par and is a gain. So most serious players putt to avoid a bogey and putt to achieve a birdie.
In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman cited a study (by Pope and Schweitzer) in which the researchers analysed more than 2.5 million putts in detail (Tiger Woods was one of the participants in the study) to see if players were more successful when putting for par than a birdie.
Thanks to this research, we now know that players will try a little harder when putting for par than for a birdie, because they want to avoid a bogey. This does not mean that golfers make a conscious decision to go-easy on birdie putts: it's their intense aversion to a bogey that's the key motivator. Averting loss is very strong: what could possibly be worse than a bogey?
Two of the main messages are as follows.
- Goals must be achievable AND challenging
- The reward for exceeding the goal must be worth the effort
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