A 2012 paper by researchers at the University of Chicago and the Korean Business School set out to answer whether it is more effective to have a goal when pursuing an exercise program or to focus on the experience. Interestingly, the researchers found having goals (“I want to train for a 1/2 marathon”) increased exercise intention, but decreased the amount of time actually spent exercising. On the other hand, focusing on the experience (“I am going for a run to explore the act of running”) increased amount of time exercising and exercise enjoyment, but had no effect on intention. The researchers repeated the study with learning origami, flossing, and practicing yoga. In all four groups, focusing on goals associated with an activity reduced overall enjoyment; over time, this would likely lead to a reduction in adherence.
When you look at magazine covers or read through popular online headlines, most are goal oriented. “Learn how to lose 10 pounds fast!” “Get shredded with this amazing exercise program” “Train for marathon in less time” “Practice yoga for better sleep” are all examples of goal oriented headlines. If the goal of the health and fitness industry is to get people moving regularly, maybe instead of focusing on the goals, we should focus on exploring and experiencing. This isn’t to suggest goals should be thrown out the window; we all need to be pushed out of our comfort zone now and then. By figuring out what drives you you might be able to keep the momentum up long term rather than reaching your goal and thinking, “now what?”
*The full paper can be found here: https://faculty.chicagobooth.edu/ayelet.fishbach/research/OBHDP%2010-318R2%20Fishbach%20and%20Choi.pdf