In Beneficial effects of a progress focus I mentioned that self-evaluation of progress is a key motivational proces . The perception of progress generally increases self-efficacy and motivation (Schunk & Usher, 2012). But focusing on progress does not always strengthen motivation. Sometimes focusing on progress disengages us from our focal goal. To explain I first need to explain something about self-regulation and goal shielding.

 

People use various self-regulation processes to facilitate their learning and goal accomplishment (for more on self regulation see Vohs & Baumeister, 2011). Some of these processes are deliberate, conscious processes, others are automatic and unconscious. One example of such a self-regulatory process is goal shielding. Goal shielding is the processes of protecting one’s focus on a goal by inhibiting alternative goals which compete with the focal goal. Thus, goal shielding helps us achieve important goals by protecting us against distracting other goals and information. Shah, Friedman, & Kruglanski (2002) found evidence for goal shielding. They also found that goal shielding happens in particular when one is highly committed to the focal goal. Further, they found that feeling depressed diminishes goal shielding while anxiety tends to strengthen it.

 

Fishbach & Dahr (2005) found that when people consider the progress they have made toward their focal goal, goal shielding diminishes and people become more open to competing goals. Thus, focusing on progress made may hinder further progress. This decrease in goal shielding happens only when the goal directed actions are interpreted by the individuals as (partly) completing the goal. However, when the goal directed actions are seen as indications of strong commitment to the focal goal, goal shielding becomes stronger (Koo & Fishbach, 2008).

 

Fitzsimons, Friesen, Orehek, & Kruglanski (2009) found that progress‐induced goal disengagement reflects goal switching, and is most likely to happen 1) when multiple goals are highlighted, 2) when the focal goal is long‐term in nature, and 3) when goal pursuers are high in the regulatory tendency of locomotion (Kruglanski et al., 2000).

 

What might this imply? Based on these findings I suggest two interventions: 1) when giving feedback on the progress made by an individual or a team create a perception of high commitment by saying things like: “Wow, this goal must be really important for you!” or “Wow, how come you are so committed to this goal?”. This way the attribution of the individual may be subtly influenced so that motivation for the focal goal may be sustained, 2) instead of only looking back by focusing on progress made, focus also on the future by asking individuals about the progress they would further like to make. A technique which uses this second reccommendation is the circle technique.

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