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This Tiny Shift in Thinking Can Keep You Motivated

If you’ve ever kicked off a new goal with tons of motivation, only to feel less and less excited about it over time, you’re not alone. But there’s good news: According to a new study, making one deliberate change in your mindset may help you follow through to the end.When researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba set out to study why enthusiasm tends to fizzle during progression toward goals—like losing weight or saving money—they found that people’s sources of motivation tend to change along the way.

In a series of five experiments, the scientists confirmed that in the early stages of pursuing a goal, participants were motivated by hopes and aspirations—what’s known as promotion motivation. People who want to lose 20 pounds, for example, may be driven by thoughts of their slimmed-down appearance, new clothes, and improved energy levels. In promotion-motivation mindset, people are motivated by positive things they can do to make progress—like exercising more and eating fruits and vegetables.

As people in the experiments got closer to reaching their goals, however, prevention motivation seemed to work better than promotion motivation. A prevention-motivation strategy focuses on responsibilities, duties, and avoiding negative outcomes or “wrong” choices. For a weight-loss goal, this might mean steering clear of dessert or fast-food restaurants, or thinking about how disappointing it would be not to fit into a certain pair of jeans.