Welcome to the Get It Done Tiny Course: Multiple Goals
In this module, you’ll learn how to set and manage multiple goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there’ll be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
Multiple Goals – Video 1
Welcome to the Get It Done tiny course. This module is about learning how to set and manage multiple goals. This is the first of two videos in the module. After each video, there’ll be a short quiz. You’ll have to get most of the questions right to complete the module.
So why do we need to manage multiple goals? Well, we never just want one thing. We simultaneously want to invest in our career, family, and leisure activities. The motivational principle that governs pursuing multiple goals is “maximizing attainment”: We choose actions that make as much positive impact on as many goals as possible while minimizing the negative impact on our other goals.
Our mind organizes our goals on a hierarchy: our goal system. At the top of the hierarchy are general and abstract goals, such as our desire for social connection, wealth, and health. These are served by subgoals or means. You might set the subgoal of making new friends to cultivate social connection. These subgoals or means are in turn served by their own subgoals or means. You might join a book club to make friends.
Within a goal system, some means are “multifinal,” meaning they serve several goals simultaneously. Biking is a healthy, environmentally friendly, and affordable mode of transportation. By the principle of maximizing attainment, multifinal means are desirable. But they might be hard to come by. One reason that finding a soul mate is so hard is because while your focal goal might be to find romance, you’re constrained by other goals, such as dating someone your family approves of.
Other means are “equifinal,” meaning they serve the same goal. Biking, golfing, and rock climbing can all serve your fitness goal. Equifinal means are interchangeable. Any one would work. But knowing there’s more than one way to reach your goal is encouraging; it boosts your commitment to the goal.
Despite these advantages of multifinal and equifinal means, there are also downsides. If a means serves several goals or if a goal has several means, the means-goal link is diluted. The result is that the goal is less likely to come to mind when pursuing the activity, and the activity is less likely to be selected to achieve the goal. Behavioral scientists call this the dilution principle, and because of it, people often prefer “unifinal” means, which are actions, objects, or people that help us pursue one goal only, and are therefore strongly associated with that single goal.
In one study, advertising ice cream as kosher reduced nonkosher eaters’ interest in it. Instead of ignoring that it was kosher—something that was irrelevant to them—these potential consumers wanted ice cream that was “just” ice cream. By similar logic, in another study, participants preferred a mouthwash that caused an unpleasant burning sensation, believing that it was better at eliminating germs than a pleasant mouthwash.
Now that you better understand how we view and pursue multiple goals, let’s test your knowledge with a few questions. Good luck!
Take the Quiz
Multiple Goals – Video 2
Welcome to the second video in this module on setting multiple goals. In the first video, you learned how we view, set, and pursue multiple goals. In this video, you’ll learn how we resolve trade-offs between multiple goals.
If you value eating organic food but also want to save money, you’ll be pulled in two directions. Eating organic tends to be expensive. So how do you resolve the conflict between these two goals? Do you compromise by seeking the middle ground? Do you alternate between organic and nonorganic? Or do you prioritize one goal and give up on the other?
One approach is to compromise. You strike a balance between two or more opposing goals so that you partially satisfy them both or all. Another approach is to prioritize, devoting yourself to one goal at the cost of the others. We compromise when we balance career and family. We prioritize when we postpone starting a family to advance our career, as well as when we give up a career to be there for our family.
Unsurprisingly, the ultimate compromise is the “compromise effect,” which is when we opt for moderate choices and avoid extremes. Moderate or “middle” options satisfy several goals partially and no goal fully. When you order the medium coffee, buy an average-priced phone, or go on a medium-length hike, you compromise between saving money and getting a better product or between sightseeing and relaxing.
The “diversification effect” is another example of compromise. This compromise is between means to a goal. You diversify whenever you divide your resources across several investments. You could invest your money in a variety of assets, since you don’t know which one will be profitable. You could also invest your energy in a variety of first dates, recognizing that you don’t know who might become your significant other. When you prioritize, in contrast, you focus on your relationship with a single partner.
Choosing to compromise versus prioritize
When you see your actions as reflecting who you are as a person, you tend to prioritize. In these cases, compromising feels like sending mixed signals about who you are, so you avoid it. Buying an electric car but leaving all the lights on in your home might send mixed messages to your neighbors about your environmental concerns. After you purchase the electric car, you’ll be more likely to turn off the lights.
When you see your actions as making progress on a goal and believe the “marginal value”—the added value from each extra action—is decreasing, you tend to compromise. Many parents believe spending time with their children is critical for good parenting. But spending all their time with their children seems excessive as the added value declines. These parents seek to strike a balance, or a compromise, between parenting and other areas of their lives, like career and leisure.
Now that you know the trade-offs that go into setting multiple goals, let’s see how much you have retained with a few more questions.
Take the Quiz
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