You are probably familiar with the saying “the glass is half full.” Just like people are either cat people or dog people, I think people are either glass half full or glass half empty people. One means you have a tendency toward seeing the positive and the other means you have a tendency toward seeing the negative.
Well, it turns out that goals are the same way. Goals can be classified as Promotion or Prevention.
Promotion goals are all about what you can achieve. They are about what you’d ideally like to accomplish and how you can maximize your gains. Promotion goals are the glass half full goals. “I’m going to finish writing that novel” is a promotion goal.
Prevention goals, on the other hand, are about safety or obligation. They are the things you feel you ought to do in order to minimize loss and avoid pain. Prevention goals are the glass half empty goals. “I really need to start looking for a job because I heard layoffs may be coming” is a prevention goal.
Understanding the type of goal is helpful because there are different strategies and motivators that you should use depending on which type of goal it is.
There is a concept called Expectancy Value Theory. It says that people are motivated to do something as a function of 1.) how likely they are to be successful (this is the expectancy part), and 2.) how much they think they will benefit (this is the value part).
For promotion goals, the Expectancy Value Theory is generally driven by how likely you think you will be to succeed. Because promotion goals are achievement or accomplishment driven, it makes sense that you are going to give more consideration to your chances of success. When you complete a promotion goal, you feel a rush of success. A promotion goal makes you smile from ear to ear.
For prevention goals, you are on the other end of the Expectancy Value spectrum. Because prevention goals are more about minimizing loss or avoiding pain, you focus a lot less on the expectancy part of the equation. How likely to are to succeed has less impact because the alternative – doing nothing and suffering the expected loss – is the motivation. Whereas promotion goals result in a feeling of accomplishment, prevention goals result in a feeling of relief.
So, take a look at the goals you are currently pursing and think about them with this new filter. Is there something different you might do to accomplish them now that you know which kind of goal they are?
If you want to dive deeper, listen to our episode on Making Sense of Your Goals
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