By Krissy Brady, with additional editing by Adelina Tan
Feeling bloated the morning after a night of margaritas and nachos with the girls, you decide, “This is it. Today is the day I’m going to start eating better.” Except that you told yourself this exact same thing last Thursday after skipping lunch and then eating way too much rice after work. And the week before when you had chocolate brownies for dinner.
The problem isn’t your willpower — it’s your mindset, according to a study published in Psychological Science. Researchers asked 145 adults to focus on saving money using either the linear, future-looking approach most of us tend to favor, or by applying a cyclical strategy and breaking their overall goal into smaller, concrete, repetitive actions such as “I’ll put RM10 into savings each day.” After two weeks, those who adopted a cyclical mindset saved 80 per cent more than the linear group and a group that received no instruction.
Linear thinking leaves us with vague goals (“I want to save more money”) and therefore no jumping-off point, says lead researcher Leona Tam, Ph.D., a psychological scientist at the University of Wollongong in Australia. When we inevitably fall behind, we grow overly optimistic in our ability to catch up, creating a shortfall and, eventually, an unmet goal. “The sheer volume or distance between the goal and our current status can be intimidating, which can paralyse a person’s mind when trying to go about it,” Tam says.
On the other hand, pursuing a goal with a cyclical approach means you have a definitive plan that promotes developing long-term habits — i.e. you’ve created a cycle. “This helps people follow through by directing their attention to tasks they can do within a smaller time period rather than focusing only on the end goal,” Tam explains.
And the sense of accomplishment you garner from checking off those mini-goals provides instant motivation to keep up the hard work and go after new bite-size goals, she adds. Here are some ways to start turning your linear mindset into a cyclical one.
Linear goal: I’ll start exercising.
Cyclical goal: I will take a yoga class two days a week.
Linear goal: I’m going to eat better.
Cyclical goal: I’m going to include two vegetables in every dinner.
Linear goal: I’ll live healthier.
Cyclical goal: Each morning I’ll have a glass of water before I do anything else.
Linear goal: I will find true love.
Cyclical goal: I will join an online dating site and message one guy every day.
Linear goal: Family and friends will be my priority.
Cyclical goal: Once a week I’ll call my mom and chat for at least 20 minutes.
Linear goal: Stress will not control my life.
Cyclical goal: Instead of doing marathon cleaning on Sundays, I’ll clean the kitchen that day, the bedrooms Tuesdays, the living room Wednesdays, and the bathrooms Thursdays.
Linear goal: I’m going to make more time for me.
Cyclical goal: I’m going to make an appointment for a massage every three months.