Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Giving up goals

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Giving up goals:
When should we give up goals and when should we persist?

Overview[edit | edit source]

" Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching and striving for his goals.


In this book chapter, you will learn about the definition of giving up goals, theory associated with giving up goals, types of motivation, why people give up their goals and why people should persist.

Focus questions:

  • What is the definition of giving up goals?
  • Motivation and goals?
  • When should people give up on goals?
  • When should people persist with goals?

Giving up goals[edit | edit source]

Giving up goals means withdrawal of hard work, effort and commitment. Giving up goals does not occur instantaneously in many cases, normally people are confused and faced with constant setbacks (Bradstatter & Schuler, 2013). Disengagement of goals or giving up goals is not a loss or win matter. Before people contemplate the idea of giving up their goals, a great deal of hard work was invested towards accomplishment of the goal. It's worth mentioning that very little research has done in giving up goals.

Action crisis emerged because people put much effort into their goals, but lose the basic purpose of the goal. Therefore, people find themselves contemplating to either give up their goal or persisting (Brandstatter, 2003). Klinger (1977) mentioned that when people consider to stop pursuing their goals, there are four stages; firstly, is incentive fall-back (disengagement cycle) where individuals put extra effort to accomplish the goal; the second stage is invigoration, where the extra effort does not fit the ideal concept of the goal hence the individual becomes angry (aggression) and withdraw from the goal (depression) and lastly, the individual stop pursuing the goal with no thoughts of developing new one. It is important to remember Klinger's phase mode never been tested empirically but had created heuristic value to research. Persisting in achieving goals is one effective way of succeeding in attaining goal but however, that is not always the case, many times setbacks can lead to frustration and stop people from persisting to achieve their goals (Brandstatter, 2003). According to Kuhl (1992), it is important to disengage from goals that are unrealistic and unachievable because it may result to failure in self-regulation and well-being. Continuing with unachievable goals may also lead to poor psychological and physical well-being (Wrosch et al, 2007).


University graduation ceremony
Figure 1. Self- determination and Persistence can lead to achievement

A goal is anything a person wants to achieved (Locke, 1995). There are many types of goals. The main two people talk about is long term and short term goals. Long term goals are those goals with time frame and paramount ideas, for example, graduating from your three year course with high achievement could be your long term goal whereas, short-term goals are those list you have (pathway) to achieve long-term goals, for example ensuring you attempt all the requirements for each units to get good grades. One of the simple thing you can do is by having a log book or diary to track your progress or set a time table that you can follow through(Stratton, (2005).

Self-determination theory[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory suggested that every human being have three types of psychological needs. First is autonomy, having control over what you do; second is competence, having opportunity to exercise your skills and thirdly; relatedness, having connection with others. This theory is important because when you have control over your goal, determine you can do something and have people who support this goal, it reduces the chance of giving up the goals. Humanistic psychologists has explored the area of goal setting above questions of why people set goals and why pursuing or giving up on goals. Studies inspired by the relationship between goals and self -determination suggested that for individual to fully achieve and feel satisfaction, the motivation to pursue goal should be intrinsic motivated, autonomy motivated and not driven by others factors and it is important that your goal at least have one of the basic needs in order to remain motivated.

Intrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

According to (Ryan and Deci, 2000) intrinsic motivation refers to participating in activity for the seek of it. Intrinsic motivation plays role in giving up goals because research has found that people are easy to give up goals that are not align with their interest and values. For example if a football is not enjoying playing for his team and got injured at one of the game with a broken leg, it's easy for the player to give up if he/she is not intrinsically motivated. there are many things people do for the love of it for instance, why do people climb mountain Everest and most of the time we see on TV some people don't make safely at home or why people surf knowing that this activities could be dangerous? research found that people engaged in certain activities for the sense of achievement, curiosity and also positive sense of pride.

Extrinsic motivation[edit | edit source]

Extrinsic motivation is a force that drive us to act and behave in a particular way and suggested to influence by environment sources such as reward (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Our community and society is surrounded by extrinsic motivation and we want this things because we want to satisfy our basic needs, psychological needs and have sense of fulfillment. This external sources are money, job, fame, care or power. Extrinsic motivation play important role in giving up goal especially goals that are not interested and not relevant and the reward is not longer important. For example, you wanted to become a lawyer a year ago and decided to enrolled in law course, later in the middle of this year you realized you are not enjoying the course and decided to change your course to business, in this case giving up the dream of becoming a lawyer was appropriate because it has lead to new idea. Extrinsic motivation is found to be problematic to psychological well-being because of self-inefficacy and pressure people feels to pursue this goals ( Carver & Baird, 1998).

Incentive theory of motivation

According to incentive theory, most people are motivated to engage in certain behavior because they receive a reward. For example, you do your assessment because you will get good grade. With incentive motivation you learn behavior by establishing connection with results, hence reinforcement strengthens wanted behavior moreover not penalizing( punishment) it (operant conditioning). Clark Hull, 1940s theory of incentive suggested that human have desire that drive their behavior due to environmental reward. Incentive normally presented to individual when the require activity is achieved and the purpose is for the behavior to continue in the future. The assumptions that when you reward people after a good job they will perform even better next time has been opposite by many scientist. Research instead found that rewards do not keep us committed for a long time because in the process of performing activity and later receive rewards lead to people lose interest in the job. Psychologists suggested that incentive can be good when when use to improve intrinsic motivation (Causey & Bjorkjund, 2014). For example reward is good when given to boost wanted behavior such as doing homework which is not intrinsic motivating. Research also found that children who where promised to receive rewards after their work performed poorly compared to children who where not promised anything. This theory is related to giving up goals because once the incentive is no more, there will be no reason to continuous performing the activity which may result in abandoning the goal .

Expectancy theory of motivation

Expectancy refers to assumption that individual has capacity to yield result (outcomes). People are motivated to persist in achieving their goals when they belief they have the knowledge and skills to accomplish the wanted result hence people are less motivated to and ready to give up their goals if they lack knowledge and skills to reach the goals. Expectancy theory suggested that we formulate varies assumption on what may happen in future because we think about it. Therefore if we estimate that the behavior is likely to be positive result then we form belief that we are capable to construct that positive outcomes actuality.Valence is one of the element of expectancy theory that place merit on the likely positive outcomes and it's where people place high value on things that has immediate satisfaction compare to things that satisfy personal advantage. Expectancy theory align with giving up goals because people prefer activity or things that brings fast and immediate outcomes compare to goals that takes long to achieve but has better outcomes. The second element of expectancy theory of motivation stated that people are not motivated if they have no control over the outcomes of their future verse when they are engage and play part in the positive outcomes. people enjoy activities that show their competence and skills and if this is not in place it's likely they will give up the goals.

Performance -orientated goals[edit | edit source]

Performance - orientated goals is also called ego-oriented goals. People with this type of goal focus their attention and mind on outcomes of their goals (Stratton, 2005). Giving up goals and ego-oriented goal are connected because people with this mindset are easy to give up their goals when the process of attaining the outcome become hard or seems too far and instead of tracking back the process and analyze why, they may consider giving up the entire goal. People also who exercise performance -oriented goals may give up their goals because individuals compare themselves with other people. The complication with comparing is that you have no control over what the other person do and this may lead to frustration for individual and giving up may become obvious. Literature suggested that the best way for people to avoid giving up their goals and persist in the pursuing of their goal is to learn mastering - orientation (Darmon et al, 2009). The benefit of mastering your goal is that, because your main focus is to learn, persistence become the process of reaching the goal. People with mastering goals are found to take responsibility of their own action, and know achievement does not come easily.

When should people give up their goals?[edit | edit source]

A bitter disappointment
Figure 3. unattainable goal

Often people are told that ''winners never quit, and quitters never win'' definitely these people did not experience setbacks. There is a power and relief you get after giving up goals that turn against you and making your life miserable and unhappy. Nothing is wrong with giving up goals what consume your time with no result and enjoy things that interest you and make you happy. Goals are meant to lead us forward to achieve things we want not make us feel bad. Knowing when to give up serve time and stress that you may experience due to long unachievable goals.

Giving up goals can be very difficult because the process demands abandoning unachievable goals that has consumed time and effort. People should give up when it's tying you down and causing poor psychological well-being. Research found that giving up goals that are wasting efforts and time may benefit individual to have more time in doing what they enjoy and also develop new ideas (Wrosch et al, 2003). People who find it hard to abandon their goals are found to have excessive inflammation that may result from high cortical level which shows over-actively immune system. This occurs when you are constantly distress from not achieving goals (Worsch et al, 2003)

Persisting same goal long time with no or little progress.[edit | edit source]

Time wasted and commitment used in pursuing goals can stop people from giving up. If you give all you can, followed the plan and still feel like failure, it may be a sign to give abandon the goal and find things that interest you.Goal should be relevant to what is that you want to achieve. Maintaining goals that are not relevant decrease effort, commitment and focus therefore, giving up may result into mind refreshment and development of new ideas

Example[edit | edit source]

Sara wanted to be a designer since she was a little girl. when she was a school she like to engage in activities that involves designing. When she was in high school, she enrolled in designing course in technology of arts just to give best opportunity to continue her passion in university. Sara's dream of becoming a designer was because she thought designing is sexy, involves wearing makeup, dressing nice and everything that involves looking good in appearance. When she finally enrolled at university to study arts, she realized that it's not what she thought in a real world, she started to see things differently and started to question everything. Sara immediately realized that she was not enjoying her course and hate designing for that matter. Sara wanted to give up but she was embarrassed because this was her childhood dream and she has pursued for a very long time.

The goal is making you unhappy.[edit | edit source]

Research found that giving up goals produce positive effect on negative thinking and prevent stress. The study suggested that planning or developing a new goals when disengaging from unachievable goal may keep one focus and easy to move forward. giving up is less stressful if people draw new inspiration after abandoning the stressful one. As human no one has every have one job, one living conditions, one everything. Giving up gives people opportunity to even do big and better things that makes us happy.

Biological factors[edit | edit source]

Our cognition during early childhood and adolescence increases in ability; in mid adulthood our physical ability rises but later decline in older age. The life-span of growing in ability and declining in development determine which goals are chosen and achievable and that needs to be give up and. Because life is not forever and everything has its time frame, certain goals needs to be given up although it's not causing us problem.

Example[edit | edit source]

Getting gold medal for running 100 meters may be understandable and achievable at early 20s but would be impossible at late 80s. Our society we live in alone set a constrain certain activities based on age especially in sports (Hagestad, 1990).

Short life-span[edit | edit source]

Human life-span is short with limited resources. Due to these reason, people needs to critically chose what works for them and what does not works. this give people time to work on goals that are achievable in given time frame and give up that what their time and effort. Although humans have many advantages of what they can accomplish and become. They have ability to decide happen in their life (Heckhausen, 1999). Human being works around the clock with limited resources and that why it's important they chose careful what benefit them in including choosing goals and abandoning the one that have no benefit (Schulz & Heckhausen, 1996).

Not interesting, fun or enjoyable anymore[edit | edit source]

One may consider giving up goals when it is not exciting, enjoyable, interesting, fun or exciting (intrinsically motivating). It is important that the goal you are pursuing is what you want and it is coming from within you (internal drive) than raising from external environment. Individual should abandon goals that makes them struggle in the process of achieving and also causing burning out.

Why people give up their goals[edit | edit source]

Many times giving up has been treated as a negative response to challenges and this is because giving up has been associated with failure.

Implementation intention

To achieve a goal, individual requires effective goal setting strategies but also pre-action time where you can decide when, where and how the goal can be achieve. Implementation intentions help direct one's attention toward goal directed action while excluding distractions. Implementation intention when persisting to pursue goals because when people set goals that seems to constantly set them back, they have plan to review and also gives opportunity for individual to set new goal if required.

Fixed mindset

People with fixed mindset assumed that your ability to do things is fixed and can not be changed and it's set at birth. Fixed mindset people believes failure is permanent and there is nothing individual can do. They are fixed on measurable accomplishment, give up when face with challenges and see feedback as personal attack. For example, A manager thinks he worked at the organization so long that he know everything about the company and do not need help ( Gollwitzer and Lucas, 2016). Pursuing goals required sacrifices, hard work, effort, commitment and positive and growth mindset. Having fixed mindset can lead to giving up because when face with challenges, individual would started to think nothing can be done to change the situation and the problem is going to be permanent so it's worth giving up.

self doubt

Self doubt refers to lack of confident and being anxious consistence about things. Self doubt is found to associate with low self-esteem and associate with unworthiness, feeling of not being good enough or media influence. Self doubt comes both from internal and external source. Self doubt can stop people from achieving their goals and eventually give up because it creep you up and prevent you from exploring your potential.

Personal control beliefs

Believing that you have no control over event that happen in your life is very important because it could determine persisting to achieve goal or giving it up. When people do not believe that they have control on things happening to them, it's easy for them to consider giving up on important goals because they do not believe they can do something about it and can work on it and improve in better way ( Sartori et al.2012)

Ways of coping

Everyone has different ways of coping when situation arise and knowing what types of coping mechanism to follow matters. For example, strategic approach by acting on events that happen rather than abandoning the plan or goal; Proactive verse reactive, this is where individual notice the problem and decide to stop it before it occurs compare to doing nothing then intervene after the issue occur; problem focused verse emotion focused, this is where individual find ways to work around the problem causing issue than regulating emotion respond to the problem (Skinner et al.2003). Knowing how to cope when in different situation when condition arise is important because choosing wrong mechanism to copy can lead to giving up goals.


This is when individual believe they have no control over negative challenges they face and stop try preventing the issue even though they can do it. For example, individual may stop attending collage because they believe they can never pass and do better even though they can with putting effort and hard work (Taylor et al., 1995). Learn helplessness contribute to depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.In the event of depressive episode, for example, individual may believe that there is nothing they can do to achieve their goal, therefore they stop to persist to pursue their goals. Helplessness is found to associate with low motivation, low self esteem, lack of persistence and conviction that one is a failure (Abramson et al.1978). Helplessness can be frustrating and miserable and because goals are not meant to make people miserable, giving up may have more benefit than persisting.

Unattainable goal
  1. Unattainable goal may lead to maintaining effort and commitment resulting to potential psychological distress or Individual giving up the effort but remine [spelling?] committed to the goals may consequently result to psychological well-being

When should people persist?[edit | edit source]

Maslow hierarchy of needs
Figure 4. Different types of needs and why people set goals

Mas low's Hierarchy of needs[edit | edit source]

Mas low's theory of motivation suggested that some human needs require more attention than others and this needs determine how individual behave. These theory is important because it lead to personal development and order to persist in pursuing goals. According to Maslow, meeting needs are very important because when needs are not met it may led to poor psychological, physical and biological well-being. For example sometimes you become disappointed, angry, frustrated, hopeless to mention because our needs are not meet (McLeod, 2007).

Mas low's theory is important for individual to persist their goals because we set a goal that meets our needs whether that being psychological needs such as food, water, shelter air sleep; security needs like low, order stability employment, health, safety; social needs, family, affection, relationship or friends. Human needs play vital roles as to why we get up in the morning do what we do.

Fixed mindset
Figure 5. Ways of doing same thing in different ways of thinking and mindset

Growth mindset is the way people think of what they can and can not do and their given talent. Individual with growth mindset would persist in achieving their goal because they see challenges as the process of learning and beliefs challenges are the process of achieving the goal. People with Growth mindset beliefs in learning from what did not work out and find better way to improve goal.Ultimately your mindset impact everything you do whether giving up your goals or persist and face the challenges that stop on your way of achieving your goals. Through challenges, delays and setback, individual with this type of mindset will not give up but continuous to persist until they accomplish their mission ( Gollwitzer and Lucas, 2016).

Self-efficacy theory

Self - efficacy is a believe of how well or bad one can cope with situation given circumstances individual faces and skills they have. Ability to compose strategies to express individual capability into better way. People with mastery beliefs respond to failure by remaining task and mastery-focused. Self efficacy is connected to persisting in achieving goal because if the goal set and the plan did not go as plan and setback occurs, individual can make reasonable adjustment and correction to achieve the goal. This is because self-efficacy does not prevent doubt when setback a rise but leads to better improvement ( Bandura, 1983).

Fulfilling your psychological basic needs

Studies has found that when basic needs are meet, people would be more motivated and easy for them to persist and achieve their goals. Doing things that are important to us, thing that we are good at and having people to support our goals and relate with is one of the unique features of human being. For example, set a goal that interest you (autonomy), goals that can show and improve your skills (competence) and have people you can relate with (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). Other coteries of needs suggested that psychological needs stand for essential shape for psychological development, well-being and integrity. People who did not anticipate autonomy, competence and relatedness are found to have poor performance, lack of motivation and poor well-being while individual social contexts encourage natural development such as intrinsic motivated act and consolidation of extrinsic motivations (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Optimistic association

Optimism and positive thinking is found to be connected. Being optimistic about difficult situation is said to be beneficial. People who are optimistic also have positive expectation about their future. This though become a behavior in a long run and may influence how people react to positive situations.People who beliefs they have ability to strive continuous to have positive thinking and remain optimistic even when faces with difficult challenges (Scheier & Carver, 1993) . Being optimistic is very important when pursuing goals, this is because persisting to pursue your goals can be challenging with setbacks and slow process. Therefore being optimistic may prevent permissive thoughts of blaming yourself for the failure of the goal.

Figure 6. Setting Congruence goal that aligned with your values

Congruence[edit | edit source]

When your goals are not aligned with your value and personal goal, your are more likely to procrastinate. congruence means having your goals and value aligned together. Goals that gives you peace of mind and does not cause distress are those considered to be congruence and authentic to one self (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999). For example you your parent told you to become a teacher and yes teaching is what you really want to become. Congruence allow people to increase effort and persist towards achieving their goals. When your goal is compatible with your values and align with people authentic, it increase the chance of persisting and pursuing your goal.

Feedback[edit | edit source]

Feedback is vital in pursuing goal because if individual can handle constructive feedback from people may have gone through the similar experience, it would be much easy to persist pursuing the goals because you know this goal is achievable based the positive feedback and your plan tracking record. For example if people realized that they are making progress than even required, they will continue to pursue the goal and also may result to more complex goal set as a result, meanwhile if the feedback indicated poor performance below average then anticipated, the individual dissatisfaction may lead to increase in effort or development of new plan. When pursuing goals ensure to reflect on your personal feedback before considering external feedback because you do not want to give your goals too prematurely based on what other people said. Self-feedback refers to the process of producing information about set goals and how you are accomplishing using planned criteria. Self-feedback is found to be more effective and can lead to

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

The topic of giving goals has not attract many scientist compared to other goal theories. Giving up goals plays important roles to prevent people from wasting time and resources. Scientist has also found that giving up goals that affect people psychological well - being and making us feel bad can be beneficiary . Goals should be fulfilling, improve self-efficacy, interesting and challenging but achievable. when your goals become obviously unattainable, be happy to give it up with the aim of setting a new one to keep you focus.

Take home message: Do not give up your goal easily, try different options first before giving up. If you have to give up your goal, find something to replace the exhausting goal and never feel like a failure because no one has one everything for the rest of their life. If they get lucky, life-span circle may still catch up with them. If we have to do everything and not let go others, we may not have priority. Look after yourself and set goals that aligned with your values and makes you happy.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

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External links[edit | edit source]