A new study focused on trying to find out what makes humans give up on the way to achieve their goals. What psychological mechanism justifies the unjustified behavior of people not finishing up a task. The study combined two approaches: behavioral science and neuroscience.
Given that our brain is a reward dependent mechanism, the researchers created a pattern where they invited the participants to choose a suitable run.
They had to perform a given task at the end of which they would be given a financial reward. The lighter version implied a lighter task and a smaller reward. The harder version offered the opposite. Although the participants have chosen the run of action themselves, they all struggled to get it done, no matter the greatness of the reward. What happened? The antagonist came in: the effort. The antagonist in a theatre play is the one creating the plot by antagonizing the protagonist, making him doubt, be frightened, fight, lose faith, give up.
So, the effort came in, and the participants lost meaning of the reward, regardless of the amount of money. It is the same mechanism that makes us stop exercising, or dieting, or cleaning the room. When the reward is somewhat tangible, the effort has the power of being even more so. It isn’t proof that things work the same with goals that have nothing to do with material reward.
The Research on What Makes Humans Give Up Achieving Goals
Specialists involved in the study say that assessing the amount of effort before engaging in the process and struggling to focus on the reward instead of focusing on the effort might be of help. That’s easier said than done. Once the initiative becomes a real struggle, it’s hard to rewire our brain circuits on focusing on something that is not yet real and doesn’t look much appealing anyway. If you can, then lucky you!
If that doesn’t work, there is something else we can try to correct this behavior. Self-education to get to experience effort as a reward. The rewarding mechanism works like this: we picture ourselves at the end of the task and feel the splash of dopamine by seeing us holding the award.
What if we change the script and start to picture ourselves on the way to the reward? In the hardest times: sweating, struggling, feeling lost or incapable, putting up a real fight to get it done, and succeeding. That’s a very powerful image and very self-rewarding. The reward itself might even lose some of its power, because form this moment on, it is not the only goal. The main goal is to overcome ourselves.
It is not enough to obtain a reward. We need to feel we deserve it. The feeling that the reward belongs to us is a matter of credit. If we don’t earn the credits, then the reward means nothing. So, the effort is a necessary process for the reward to feel like a reward. No pain, no gain. It’s the process that matters, not the success. Those are strong beliefs among professional sports players and artists.
They get to the end of the run because they enjoy the road, the effort. The more painful it is, the higher the reward. Because they feel rewarded every step of the way, every drop of effort is a drop in compensation. At the end of their struggle, the only reward that matters is recognition of their efforts. Maybe there is something there we can all pursue: find joy in making an effort. Forget about the reward.
Doris’s passion for writing started to take shape in college where she was editor-in-chief of the college newspaper. Even though she ended up working in IT for more than 7 years, she’s now back to what he always enjoyed doing. With a true passion for technology, Doris mostly covers tech-related topics.