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Goals are important sources of motivation and well-being, but not all goals are made alike. In this research, we investigate the effects of difficult goals on well-being. College students completed a series of four self-report surveys to track their goal progress and well-being over the course of a semester. In the first survey (Nт1=150), participants were asked to describe and rate various features of a goal they had for the semester. In the fourth and final survey (Nт4=48), they indicated their well-being, specifically life satisfaction and affect balance. Regression analyses indicated no significant main or interactive effects of goal difficulty and goal autonomy on life satisfaction or affect balance, ps > .154, and the same is true of main and interactive effects of goal difficulty and goal autonomy on these outcomes, ps > .095. When omitting two outliers (>2 SD below the mean of goal difficulty), results indicated a marginally significant curvilinear association between goal difficulty squared and affect balance (B = -1.254, β = -.273, SE= .682, p= .075). In general, this study suggests few effects of goal difficulty on well-being, even when goal autonomy and goal specificity are taken into account. However, this study does show a marginally significant curvilinear relationship between goal difficulty and affect balance. As a participant’s goal difficulty increased, the effect of goal difficulty on their well-being decreased. This may suggest the existence of an optimal level of goal difficulty, implying that not all difficult goals will be beneficial for one’s well-being.


Dr. Danielle Geerling, Psychology

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psychology, goal setting

Exploring the Association Between Goal Difficulty and Well-Being

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