This University of Chicago Professor Says Your Goals Should Be More Fun

If your momentum tends to flag, it could be that your goals are too boring.

Shot of creative employees working in a modern office smiling and laughing

Writing a blog post every week. Getting your Twitter account over 10,000 followers. Generating a hundred qualified leads this quarter. 

Setting goals is one thing. But hitting them? That’s a little trickier.

Once the excitement of setting a goal wears off, your momentum can flag as you work toward it. Before you know it, they’re out of reach. 

This scenario has happened to everyone, so it probably sounds familiar. So what’s the problem? What’s keeping you (and everyone else) from sticking with it and hitting your goals?

They’re probably not fun enough.

That’s according to Dr. Ayelet Fishbach, Jeffrey Breakenridge Keller Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business. She’s also the author of Get it Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation.

In an article she penned for Psychology Today, Fishbach writes: “Most of us intuitively plan to put the fun aside so we can get serious about our goals. But the latest research from my lab and others’ tells us this is the wrong approach.”

Enjoyment, she says, is mission critical for making good on your resolutions or goals.

“Humans and animals alike respond strongly to immediate outcomes,” she says. “If doing something makes you feel good while you do it, you’re more likely to persist than if you think it’ll make you feel good in the future.”

Here are a few of her takeaways aimed at giving yourself the best shot at achieving your goals and enjoying the process along the way:

Be realistic about what it will take to hit your goals.

First, set your goals while in the environment and mindset you’ll be in when you’re actually working on them.

Sounds strange, but think about it: Are you more likely to set reasonable, achievable goals while watching the sun set over the water, or on a Wednesday while at your desk?

In that same article, Fishbach writes: “When setting a resolution, you don’t pay enough attention to how it’ll feel a month or two later. … Instead, to make your future-self more likely to follow through, set your resolutions when you’re in a similar state and therefore, sympathetic to the person you’ll be when pursuing them.”

Choose the more exciting route to your goals.

Maybe your goal is to get better at making persuasive business presentations. If you’re deciding between a seminar or an improv class, go with the option you think will be the most fun. Remember: comfortable doesn’t tend to mean fun. So get out of your comfort zone and shake things up. You’re more likely to stick with the option that pushes you into new experiences and discoveries.

Make the journey to your goals a first-class trip.

Sometimes, work is just a lot of… work. Even if your goal is to compile some dry reports on deadline or edit some messy audio for a podcast series, Fishbach recommends making the pursuit of the goal fun by pairing the activity with something you enjoy. The reality is that hard work can be a slog, but you can still make the process more enjoyable. For instance, try compiling a special hype-up playlist or treat yourself to a fancy Matcha latte. 

Reframe your goals.

How we think about our goals can have a huge impact on our desire to do what it takes to achieve them. Fishbach points to a 2019 academic study on college campuses in which the cafeterias found that students ate more food that was presented as delicious, rather than healthy. “College students were more excited about eating ‘Herb ’n’ Honey Balsamic Glazed Turnips’ than ‘Healthy Choice Turnips,’ even though they were the same turnips presented with different descriptions,” she says. Make your goals the Herb ’n’ Honey variety. 

In other words, keeping things fun does more than just make your work life more enjoyable. It also pays dividends when it comes to achieving goals. As you’re setting your next content marketing goal at work, try to do it at your desk on an ordinary weekday, choose the most exciting way to achieve that goal, incorporate elements that make your process more pleasant, and even reframe the goal to give yourself the best shot at sticking to it. More than anything else, try to have some fun.

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