I’ve often wondered about this. I had a hunch.
Fishbach and Choi think that staying focused on our goals detracts from the inherent pleasures of the activities we need to pursue to achieve those goals. Consistent with this, they found that the students at the gym who stayed focused on their goals tended to say afterwards that the exercise felt more of an effort, as compared with the students who were focused on the experience itself.
Staying focused on our goals detracts from the inherent pleasures of the activities we need to pursue to achieve those goals.
If this is reminding you of the classic distinction in the psychological literature between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation, you’re spot on. This is the finding that external rewards can backfire. Offer a child treats for making pretty drawings and whereas they used to scribble away for the sheer joy of it, now they’ll only put pen to paper for that candy you promised. The difference here is that Fishbach and Choi believe that our intrinsic motivation can be imperilled even without the offer of rewards from a third party. By focusing on the ultimate goals of an activity, we risk destroying our intrinsic motivation all by ourselves.
We might think the objectives we set before ourselves are good ones to have, but because they are a part of a lifestyle we’ve not yet experienced, it is discouraging to work at reaching those goals because the harder we try to reach them the harder it may be to imagine reaching the objectives.
Not to mention that our goals are often overreaching. We get caught up looking for perfection rather than contentment and happiness.