Achieving Your Goals: Does removing yourself from the big picture help?

Jun 25, 2014

Consider the case of the adult student attending night school to earn a degree that will result in a better job with higher pay. From sacrificing time with friends and family to missing a relaxing evening watching TV, this type of long-term gain often comes with short-term pain. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, people are more likely to achieve their goals and avoid temptations when they are able to remove themselves from the big picture.

"Past research on personal achievement has focused on whether someone sets nearsighted or farsighted goals. We were interested in how staying focused on the self can either help or hinder a person's ability to overcome indulgences and distractions when they are either focused on the 'big picture' or remain more in the near term," write authors Ravi Mehta (University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign), Rui (Juliet) Zhu (Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business), and Joan Meyers-Levy (University of Minnesota).

In one study, participants were offered M&Ms while answering questions focused on either staying connected with friends and family or improving their health. Some participants answered the questions while seated in a cubicle facing a mirror. Results showed that when participants were focused on themselves (mirror), they were more likely to eat the M&Ms when their goal was more abstract (improving their health). Conversely, in the absence of self-focus (no mirror), the participants were more likely to eat the M&Ms when thinking about friends and family.

Brands selling luxury products or "trendy" goods can use this research to understand how and when a person might stray from personal saving and spending goals. These results also have important implications for public policy makers working on campaigns that promote responsible behavior like healthy eating and practicing safe sex.

"If a person does not focus on themselves or give any thought to their typical behaviors, they are able to use a big picture way of thinking that brings to mind universal ideals that society teaches us about the importance of behaving wisely and acting responsibly," the authors conclude.

Explore further: Partners in crime: When do friends conspire to eat more chocolate?

More information: Ravi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu, and Joan Meyers-Levy. "When Does a Higher Construal Level Increase or Decrease Indulgence? Resolving the Myopia versus Hyperopia Puzzle." Journal of Consumer Research: August 2014.

Related Stories

Impulse spending? Save money by getting organized

Feb 11, 2014

Reality television has turned the spotlight on to people with excessive behaviors like hoarding and stockpiling. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, controlling the chaotic environment may be one ...

Double standard? The use of performance-enhancing products

Jun 25, 2014

When professional athletes are found to be using performance-enhancing drugs, many people consider this an unfair advantage and say they are cheating. But when another person uses the same drug to overcome a disease or behavioral ...

Does seeing overweight people make us eat more?

Apr 19, 2011

Consumers will choose and eat more indulgent food after they see someone who is overweight—unless they consciously think about their health goals, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Recommended for you

College rankings go under the microscope

7 hours ago

Parents, students and admissions officials have combed through college and university rankings for years. However, education researchers have largely ignored the controversial lists. That's about to change, according to a ...

A call to US educators: Learn from Canada

22 hours ago

As states and the federal government in the U.S. continue to clash on the best ways to improve American education, Canada's Province of Ontario manages successful education reform initiatives that are equal parts cooperation ...

Devices or divisive: Mobile technology in the classroom

Apr 17, 2015

Little is known about how new mobile technologies affect students' development of non-cognitive skills such as empathy, self-control, problem solving, and teamwork. Two Boston College researchers say it's ...

Forming school networks to educate 'the new mainstream'

Apr 17, 2015

As immigration increases the number of non-English speaking "culturally and linguistically diverse" students, schools will need to band together in networks focused on the challenges of educating what has been called "the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.