Have you ever set a goal, excited for what you will finally accomplish, only to give up halfway through? Most of us have, and we blame ourselves for not being able to put in the effort required. However, that is not the case.

The problem is that when we first start a task, we focus on the rewards, but as the task gets harder, we focus on the effort required.

For example, let’s say that you start working out to get toned for summer. Your focus is on how you will eventually look. When you do start exercising, all you can think about is how difficult your workout is, which leads to you quitting. Herein lies the problem.

Dr. Magda Osman, a reader in Experimental Psychology at Queen Mary University of London, said, “If we aren’t careful our plans can be informed by unrealistic expectations because we pay too much attention to the rewards. Then when we face the reality of our choices, we realize the effort is too much and give up.

“For example, getting up early to exercise for a new healthy lifestyle might seem like a good choice when we decide on our new year’s resolutions, but once your alarm goes off on a cold January morning, the rewards aren’t enough to get you up and out of bed.”

            A study conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University of London tested the relationship between effort and reward through a joystick for tasks requiring physical effort and a math equation for tasks requiring mental effort. Participants selected a financial reward based on how much effort they would require. More effort would mean more money, and less effort would mean less money.

            They found that before starting the task participants were guided by the financial reward they would receive. However, when completing the task, they were guided by the actual effort required to complete the task regardless of the reward.

“We have found that there isn’t a direct relationship between the amount of reward that is at stake and the amount of effort people actually put in,” said Dr. Agata Ludwiczak, lead author of the study. “This is because when we make choices about what effort to put in, we are motivated by the rewards we expect to get back.”

“Common sense suggests the amount of effort we put into a task directly relates to the level of reward we expect in return. However, building psychological and economic evidence indicates that often high rewards are not enough to ensure people put in the effort they need to achieve their targets.”

            “But at the point at which we come to actually do what we had said we would do, we focus on the level of effort we have to actually put in rather than the rewards we hoped we would get.”

So, what is the one secret to accomplishing your goals? Focus on the effort required at the beginning and think of your reward when you put in the actual effort.

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