How Backup Plans Can Harm Goal Pursuit: The Unexpected Downside of Being Prepared for Failure

Posted: 17 Dec 2014 Last revised: 2 May 2016

Jihae Shin

University of Wisconsin Madison

Katherine L. Milkman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Date Written: April 10, 2016

Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

Shin, Jihae and Milkman, Katherine L., How Backup Plans Can Harm Goal Pursuit: The Unexpected Downside of Being Prepared for Failure (April 10, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2538889 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2538889

Jihae Shin (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin Madison ( email )

975 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Katherine L. Milkman

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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