Step by Step: Sub-Goals as a Source of Motivation

Step by Step: Sub-Goals as a Source of Motivation

By
Szu-chi Huang, Liyin Jin, Ying Zhang
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (forthcoming). July
2017, Vol. 141, Pages 1-15

The present research explores the shifting impact of sub-goals on human motivation as individuals move closer to goal attainment, and attributes this shift to the changing source of motivation at different time points during the goal pursuit. In four lab and field experiments, we employed contexts such as exercising, business reviews, and work-forpay jobs, and performed both within-subject and between-subject tests. We found that when individuals are initiating a goal and derive motivation primarily from the belief that the final goal state is attainable, the structure of sub-goals enhances the sense of attainability and therefore leads to greater motivation. Conversely, when people are completing a goal and the source of motivation centers primarily on the perception that their actions are of value, a focus on the overall goal (rather than sub-goals) heightens the perceived value of the goal-directed actions and leads to greater motivation.