Schweiger Gallo, I., Cohen, A.-L., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Oettingen, G. (2013). Neurophysiological correlates of the self-regulation of goal pursuit. In P. A. Hall (Ed.), Social neuroscience and public health (pp. 19-33). New York: Springer Verlag.
People often struggle with their goals and become very frustrated when they fail to reach them. Sometimes, the underlying problem is that people fail to frame their goals adequately. People may set themselves a prevention goal (i.e., focus is on negative outcomes) where a promotion goal (i.e., focus is on positive outcomes) would have been more suitable (Higgins 1997), or a performance goal (i.e., focus is on one’s standing) where setting a learning goal (i.e., focus is on one’s progress) would have been the right thing to do (Dweck and Elliott 1983). Most importantly, the chosen goal (e.g., achieving a certain weight loss) should specify an outcome that is perceived as highly desirable (i.e., the estimated attractiveness of the likely short- and long-term consequences of attaining the goal is high) but also feasible (i.e., the perceived probability of success is high; Gollwitzer 1990; Oettingen and Gollwitzer 2001). Still, selecting and committing to desirable and feasible goals as well as framing these goals appropriately is only a first step to successful goal attainment, as there is always the issue of keeping up one’s goal striving in the face of obstacles (Gollwitzer and Oettingen 2012). Here it helps when people anticipate the difficulties or problems they may run into when trying to meet their goals. The obstacles that can challenge successful goal attainment are manifold. They may relate to failing to get started (e.g., procrastination of goal striving), failing to stay on track (e.g., falling prey to distractive temptations), failing to call a halt to futile goal striving (e.g., escalation of commitment to a faulty means), and failing to prevent overextension (e.g., getting depleted too quickly). Thus, successful goal attainment not only requires that people choose wisely between possible goals (i.e., select goals that are both desirable and feasible and then frame them appropriately) but also cope effectively with challenges on the way to goal attainment.