How Backup Plans Can Harm Goal Pursuit: The Unexpected Downside of Being Prepared for Failure
Posted: 17 Dec 2014 Last revised: 2 May 2016
Date Written: April 10, 2016
When pursuing a goal, making a backup plan has many benefits including reducing the psychological discomfort associated with uncertainty. However, we suggest that making a backup plan can also have negative effects. Specifically, we propose that the mere act of thinking through a backup plan can reduce performance on your primary goal by decreasing your desire for goal achievement. In three experimental studies, we find that individuals randomly assigned to think through a backup plan subsequently perform worse on their primary goal (Studies 1-3). We further show that this effect is mediated by a decreased desire to attain the primary goal (Study 3). This research provides a novel perspective on plan-making, highlighting an important yet previously unexplored negative consequence of formulating plans.
Keywords: goals; plan-making; backup plan; motivation; failure
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