The Two Types of Goal Setters

When you think of your habits, do you see your goal or the process? A study run by Fishbach (2010) hypothesized that there are two types of goal setters – one who sees the goal (I want to be 150 pounds) and one who sees the process (I want to exercise everyday). No matter which group you find yourself in, social support, social interaction, and interpersonal relationships are all beneficial to the formation of healthy habits because of the great encouragement and information that they provide. 

A study published by Ayelet Fishbach in 2010, titled How Positive and Negative Feedback Motivate Goal Pursuit, Fishbach and their co-authors hypothesize that there are two types of goal-setters.  Some commit themselves to achieving a specific state, such as those who specifically wish to cut down to 150 pounds.  Then there are those who commit themselves to gradual progress, such as someone who wishes to exercise every day.  Both reach the same conclusion – weight loss.  While one sees the process, the other sees the goal. 

So, is positive or negative feedback better for goal-setters?  On the one side, it’s hypothesized that positive feedback is more useful due to its quality of strengthening confidence.  On the other hand, some researchers are saying that positive feedback gives a false sense of adequacy which results in decreased effort.   

Those who have a specific goal often have extremely high expectations and have a positive reaction to seeing those in the condition that they want to be in. Watching others motivates them to exercise in order to get to 150 pounds – they respond well to positive reinforcement.  Whereas those who focus on the process typically have multiple ways to approach their the subconscious goal – 150 pounds.  The theory is that if they receive negative reinforcement, they simply move on to another way to work on their weight, whether that is by jumping rope, going on a diet, or unplugging the TV.  While positive feedback has its benefits to this group, it risks leading them to focus solely on a single aspect of their routine, such as their diet, when they should be spending their time on other aspects like exercise, or off the couch. 

If we can take the researchers’ word, social media seems to also have many ways of helping both sorts of goal chasers, whether that means posting your ups and downs for your friends to comment on, or through watching exhilarating montages and saying “that’ll be me one day”.  No matter which type you are, sharing with others makes the process a lot less lonely, builds friendships, and promotes accountability for everyone involved in the habit-making business.   

Learn more about two types of goal setters and habit formation here: 

Fishbach, A., Eyal, T. and Finkelstein, S.R. (2010), How Positive and Negative Feedback Motivate Goal Pursuit

Author: Zac Lo
Editor: Cathy Xie
Researcher: Zoya Haroun