As the New Year rolls around, social psychologist Michelle vanDellen will be waiting for it—the whole “New Year, New Me” phenomenon when people decide they’ll actually make a change. They’ll eat organic foods, exercise more, and do so regularly.
And one by one, those proclamations will crumple like so many discarded $1.99 party hats.
As a researcher who specializes in goals and how people’s thoughts and motivations influence those goals, vanDellen finds it interesting that people focus on these signposts of a supposedly healthy lifestyle.
“I always say goals are often things that people don’t necessarily know they have,” said vanDellen, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Goals to be a supportive relationship partner, goals to think positively about themselves, goals to feel accomplished—people don’t really think about those.”
The way people think shapes the goals they pursue, and the goals they pursue often shape the way people think, vanDellen said.
People wanting to eat in moderation, for instance, are more likely to be biased as to what moderation means when it comes to the foods they like.
Take vanDellen. She’s an avid Diet Coke drinker, so if you asked her how much Diet Coke is a moderate amount to consume, she’d have a different answer than non-soda drinkers.
“I’d be like, ‘Oh, a liter a day? That’s probably fine,’” she said with a laugh. “But if you ask about regular Coke, I’m like, ‘No. Sugary beverages are bad. You should only maybe have a can a week.’”
It’s all about perspective.
So the next time you’re setting personal objectives, consider both what’s achievable and where your biases may be blinding you. It just might help you crush your goals.