Easy to visualize goal powerful motivator to finish a race or a task

Aug 15, 2011
Whether it is a physical goal, such as the end of a race, or a virtual goal, such as saving, selling, or waiting for a download, "The easier a goal is to see, the closer it seems," says Rajesh Bagchi, assistant professor of marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech. Credit: Virginia Tech Photo

Whether you are swimming in the Olympics or saving for a vacation, being able to see progress toward your goal will help you reach it.

"The easier a is to see, the closer it seems," said Rajesh Bagchi, assistant professor of marketing in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

Amar Cheema, associate professor of marketing with the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia, and Bagchi studied the effect of goal visualization in abstract contexts and report that making goal attainment visual provides motivation for reaching abstract goals just as with physical destinations. The research appears in the March issue of the Journal of Marketing.

Being marketing professors, they suggest a scenario where salespeople are offered a trip to Hawaii if they achieve sales 20 percent above the annual . If progress is reported visually by showing a bar filling, the sales staff will be more energized than if progress is reported numerically, as dollars or percent of sales.

"The same thing happens if you are saving for a vacation with a definite goal and you see an image of a piggy bank filling up, instead of the dollar total only," said Bagchi.

Cheema suggests that even drawing a graph representing your savings will provide motivation.

Cheema and Bagchi tested visualization with experiments requiring physical effort and experiments involving customers waiting for service and sales people completing deals.

The physical experiment conducted in the lab required individuals to sustain their grip for 130 seconds on a hand , a gauge that records force exerted. Half of the
subjects could see a bar on a fill as the 130 seconds passed. The other half saw a stopwatch; however, 130 seconds required 4.33 cycles of the watch hand, "so it was not so easy to visualize progress," said Bagchi.

"As individuals approached the goal, effort declined more steeply for participants who had the stopwatch image. While fatigue led to a decline in the force exerted over time, the decline was less steep for the people who could easily visualize the goal relative to those who could not," said Bagchi.

"Progress is important," said Cheema." When what is left to be filled in the bar is smaller than what has been filled, that is when the motivation happens."

The marketing experiments included the all-to-realistic likelihood of waiting for software support via a live chat with a technician. "Among participants near the goal, those in the easy-to-visualize condition (a filling bar vs. a countdown) are more likely to persist than those in the hard-to-visualize condition," said Bagchi. "More significantly, participants who are near the goal reported greater progress."

"This research provides one way to provide information about wait time that can reduce tension," said Bagchi.

In the final study, salespeople were told to finish selling to 20 clients as soon as possible. A second part of this study looked at the effect of setting subgoals. "Unpacking a goal into subgoals can make the tasks more manageable and may increase effort and performance," said Cheema. "On the other hand, subgoals may also shift motivational focus away from the main goal. We found this to be the case when distance to the goal is well-known and information is certain, such as in selling quickly to 20 clients."

The sales experiment once again demonstrated the motivational effect of goal visualization and proximity, where participants had a financial incentive to perform well, and demonstrated that a well-visualized abstract goal, such as making a sale, elicits commitment as if it were a physical goal.

"Our research results suggest that we process visual representations in a manner similar to distance, influencing perceptions of proximity and effort as we pursue everyday tasks or make decisions about investing time and effort for a particular outcome," said Bagchi.

Explore further: Startups should seek quality—not quantity—in partnerships, study finds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

How to Set Achievable Wellness Goals

Dec 11, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Small decisions, made throughout the day, are reflected in overall health and wellness. These decisions help achieve countless goals every day. Wellness goals can be as small as “I’m going to get eight ...

Got a goal?: A helpful partner isn't always helpful

Feb 15, 2011

You might think that a loving partner helps keep you on track -- say, when you want to stick to your jogging or concentrate on your studies. But a new study in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association of Psy ...

Recommended for you

Insider trading study shows stronger enforcement

Oct 23, 2014

The first major study of the enforcement of Australia's insider trading laws has shown the number of insider trading cases brought by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) is increasing, ...

The unexpected benefits of adjustable rate mortgages

Oct 22, 2014

Using loan level data matched to consumer credit records, researchers have been able to determine that a reduction in mortgage payments of as little as $150 a month spurred a reduction in mortgage defaults and an increase ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (1) Aug 15, 2011
this explains why long term unemployed stop looking for work. it's hard to visualize being employed when you break a certain threshold of time without it, because you forget what it's like.