PhotoHaving plenty of motivation can be great when setting out to achieve a goal, but it’s often hard to maintain. Whether it’s a promise to lose weight, learn something new, or improve your relationship, the drive to keep at it can dissipate as time goes on.

So, what is it that saps our motivation? Part of it may be attributed to willpower, but researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba in Canada say that another factor may be that our motivation changes as we move toward our goal.

In their study, they found that people are often first motivated by the thought of reaching their desired outcome – something they call “promotion motivation.” However, as time goes on, they say that our focus turns to the negative consequences of not reaching their goals, referred to as “prevention motivation.”

"Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them," said lead author Dr. Olya Bullard.

Sustaining motivation

To prove these points, the researchers conducted five experiments to see how participants’ motivations changed over time. The results showed that each person was better at sustaining their motivation over the long-term if they shift their prevention motivation mindset to focus on practical things they can avoid to reach their goal.

For example, the researchers say that someone who is trying to save money for a big purchase should focus on positive saving strategies, such as securing a better job or investing their money wisely. Later, consumers can focus on practical avoidance steps, such as not going out to dinner as often or not spending money on other expensive purchases.

The authors say that their findings have some relevance to companies and marketers who are trying to engage consumers. They point out that a gym may approach new members by accentuating the excitement of losing weight and using the latest fitness technology. However, consumers who already go to the gym and are well on their way to reaching a fitness goal may be more affected by “proven technologies” and “satisfaction guarantees.”

The full study has been published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

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