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Having A Backup Plan May Keep You From Achieving Your Goal, Research Finds

Having A Backup Plan May Keep You From Achieving Your Goal, Research Finds

“There is no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A” ~Will Smith

Such a profound and thought provoking statement. But is it accurate?

Professor Jihae Shin, Assistant Professor of Management and Human Resources at the Wisconsin School of Business (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Katherine L. Milkman from the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) conducted an experiment to research this topic and have concluded that it is–indeed–a very accurate statement. Their research proves that merely thinking through a backup plan, in most cases, reduces overall goal performance and hurts the chances of successfully achieving the primary goal.

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The Research

Shin and Milkman conducted a series of experiments set out to test the notion that backup planning does more harm than good. They set up a series of laboratory experiments to test this theory. In one experiment, participants were given a sentence-unscrambling task and told that if they showed high performance on the task, they would be given a free snack or the chance to leave the study early. One set of participants were then instructed to find other ways they could get free food on campus, or make arrangements to eat later in the day in case they didn’t do well enough to earn the snack or the early dismissal. And you probably guessed the outcome. Those that were able to make plans to get food later did not perform as well as the group that did not have other plans.

Through a series of similar experiments, the cohort was able to determine that making a plan B caused people to exert less effort and energy and to be less successful at attaining their primary goal.

An article published in Science Daily further investigates and validates that backup plans are not as beneficial as once thought. The article discusses the findings of scientists from the University of Zurich who have developed a new theoretical model to study the use and usefulness of backup plans.

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“Our model is based on a straightforward idea: backup plans change the way you pursue your goal, even if you aren’t using them, and even if you never use them,” said Dr. Christopher Napolitano, who is a researcher and lead author of their essay.

Simply put, research shows that the “backup plan effect” is counterintuitive and works by diminishing the desire to achieve the goal. Reduced desire means reduced motivation, which translates into a reduction in effort and performance.

Throw caution to the wind–cautiously

So are these research findings suggesting that we throw caution to the wind and chase our dreams with reckless abandon? Not exactly… It’s a bit more complicated than that.

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Research shows that only having a plan A works when the outcome of the goal is largely under your control. For example, winning the lottery should not be your only goal. The ability to reach that goal is largely outside of your control making it imperative that you have a plan B. However, if obtaining a college degree is your goal, having a backup plan may sabotage your efforts of toughing it out and seeing it through to the end. The backup plan effect is particularly counterintuitive when it comes to things like marriage and certain financial, educational and career goals. If you give yourself an out–you are probably going to take it.

However, scientists suggest that while making a backup plan can be detrimental and counterproductive, it does not mean that people should go through life without EVER having one. Experts say you could explore ways to mitigate the negative effects — such as being more strategic about when you make a backup plan.

“You might want to wait until you have done everything you can to achieve your primary goal first,” Shin suggests.

At the end of the day, investing too much time and energy in making backup plans could create a sort of ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ where one becomes more susceptible to using a well-developed backup plan, and subsequently failing to make a sufficient investment into succeeding with a plan A.

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Denise Hill

Denise shares about psychology and communication tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

How Do You Change a Habit (According to Psychology)

Habits are hard to kill, and rightly so. They are a part and parcel of your personality traits and mold your character.

However, habits are not always something over-the-top and quirky enough to get noticed. Think of subtle habits like tapping fingers when you are nervous and humming songs while you drive. These are nothing but ingrained habits that you may not realize easily.

Just take a few minutes and think of something specific that you do all the time. You will notice how it has become a habit for you without any explicit realization. Everything you do on a daily basis starting with your morning routine, lunch preferences to exercise routines are all habits.

Habits mostly form from life experiences and certain observed behaviors, not all of them are healthy. Habitual smoking can be dangerous to your health. Similarly, a habit could also make you lose out on enjoying something to its best – like how some people just cannot stop swaying their bodies when delivering a speech.

Thus, there could be a few habits that you would want to change about yourself. But changing habits is not as easy as it seems.

In this article, you will learn why it isn’t easy to build new habits, and how to change habits.

What Makes It Hard To Change A Habit?

To want to change a particular habit means to change something very fundamental about your behavior.[1] Hence, it’s necessary to understand how habits actually form and why they are so difficult to actually get out of.

The Biology

Habits form in a place what we call the subconscious mind in our brain.[2]

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Our brains have two modes of operation. The first one is an automatic pilot kind of system that is fast and works on reflexes often. It is what we call the subconscious part. This is the part that is associated with everything that comes naturally to you.

The second mode is the conscious mode where every action and decision is well thought out and follows a controlled way of thinking.

A fine example to distinguish both would be to consider yourself learning to drive or play an instrument. For the first time you try learning, you think before every movement you make. But once you have got the hang of it, you might drive without applying much thought into it.

Both systems work together in our brains at all times. When a habit is formed, it moves from the conscious part to the subconscious making it difficult to control.

So, the key idea in deconstructing a habit is to go from the subconscious to the conscious.

Another thing you have to understand about habits is that they can be conscious or hidden.

Conscious habits are those that require active input from your side. For instance, if you stop setting your alarm in the morning, you will stop waking up at the same time.

Hidden habits, on the other hand, are habits that we do without realizing. These make up the majority of our habits and we wouldn’t even know them until someone pointed them out. So the first difficulty in breaking these habits is to actually identify them. As they are internalized, they need a lot of attention to detail for self-identification. That’s not all.

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Habits can be physical, social, and mental, energy-based and even be particular to productivity. Understanding them is necessary to know why they are difficult to break and what can be done about them.

The Psychology

Habits get engraved into our memories depending on the way we think, feel and act over a particular period of time. The procedural part of memory deals with habit formation and studies have observed that various types of conditioning of behavior could affect your habit formations.

Classical conditioning or pavlovian conditioning is when you start associating a memory with reality.[3] A dog that associates ringing bell to food will start salivating. The same external stimuli such as the sound of church bells can make a person want to pray.

Operant conditioning is when experience and the feelings associated with it form a habit.[4] By encouraging or discouraging an act, individuals could either make it a habit or stop doing it.

Observational learning is another way habits could take form. A child may start walking the same way their parent does.

What Can You Do To Change a Habit?

Sure, habits are hard to control but it is not impossible. With a few tips and hard-driven dedication, you can surely get over your nasty habits.

Here are some ways that make use of psychological findings to help you:

1. Identify Your Habits

As mentioned earlier, habits can be quite subtle and hidden from your view. You have to bring your subconscious habits to an aware state of mind. You could do it by self-observation or by asking your friends or family to point out the habit for your sake.

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2. Find out the Impact of Your Habit

Every habit produces an effect – either physical or mental. Find out what exactly it is doing to you. Does it help you relieve stress or does it give you some pain relief?

It could be anything simple. Sometimes biting your nails could be calming your nerves. Understanding the effect of a habit is necessary to control it.

3. Apply Logic

You don’t need to be force-fed with wisdom and advice to know what an unhealthy habit could do to you.

Late-night binge-watching just before an important presentation is not going to help you. Take a moment and apply your own wisdom and logic to control your seemingly nastily habits.

4. Choose an Alternative

As I said, every habit induces some feeling. So, it could be quite difficult to get over it unless you find something else that can replace it. It can be a simple non-harming new habit that you can cultivate to get over a bad habit.

Say you have the habit of banging your head hard when you are angry. That’s going to be bad for you. Instead, the next time you are angry, just take a deep breath and count to 10. Or maybe start imagining yourself on a luxury yacht. Just think of something that will work for you.

5. Remove Triggers

Get rid of items and situations that can trigger your bad habit.

Stay away from smoke breaks if you are trying to quit it. Remove all those candy bars from the fridge if you want to control your sweet cravings.

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6. Visualize Change

Our brains can be trained to forget a habit if we start visualizing the change. Serious visualization is retained and helps as a motivator in breaking the habit loop.

For instance, to replace your habit of waking up late, visualize yourself waking up early and enjoying the early morning jog every day. By continuing this, you would naturally feel better to wake up early and do your new hobby.

7. Avoid Negative Talks and Thinking

Just as how our brain is trained to accept a change in habit, continuous negative talk and thinking could hamper your efforts put into breaking a habit.

Believe you can get out of it and assert yourself the same.

Final Thoughts

Changing habits isn’t easy, so do not expect an overnight change!

Habits took a long time to form. It could take a while to completely break out of it. You will have to accept that sometimes you may falter in your efforts. Don’t let negativity seep in when it seems hard. Keep going at it slowly and steadily.

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Featured photo credit: Mel via unsplash.com

Reference

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