It’s the Journey, Not the Destination: How Metaphor Drives Growth After Goal Attainment

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination: How Metaphor Drives Growth After Goal Attainment

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. October
2019, Vol. 117, Issue 4, Pages 697-720

People pursue goals throughout their lives, and many of these attempts end happily — a goal is achieved. However, what facilitates the continuation of behaviors that are aligned with the completed goal, such as continuing to monitor food intake after completing a diet program? The results of six studies involving over 1,600 people across cultures and samples (executives in Africa, dieters in a seven-day food diary program, exercisers in a 14-day walking program, and college students) demonstrated that construing an achieved goal as a journey one has completed (compared to an alternative metaphor of having reached a destination, or a no-metaphor control) led to a greater likelihood of people continuing behaviors aligned with this attained goal. These findings demonstrated how shifting people’s focus of a metaphor (i.e., focusing on the journey vs. the destination part of a completed path) can lead to consequentially different perceptions and behaviors. We isolated a mechanism for why people would continue goal-aligned behaviors after attaining their specific goals — enhanced perceptions of personal growth.