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Goal Gradient Effect Goal Gradient Effect
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Goal Gradient Effect

Are you struggling to motivate yourself or others to reach goals?  The Goal Gradient Effect describes how your progress towards a goal, or even the illusion of progress towards it, will increase your motivation to achieve said goal. FROM RATS TO PEOPLE.  In 1934 Clark Hull noticed that rats ran running through a maze ran faster near the end. Since then this tendency has been demonstrated in human behaviour in a range of contexts, including an experiment with loyalty cards for a coffee shop:  Group A was given a loyalty card with 10 spots to stamp before receiving a free coffee.  Group B was given a card with 12 spots to stamp before receiving a free coffee, however, the first two spots were pre-stamped.  Both groups had to buy 10 coffees to receive the free coffee, yet Group B purchased coffees faster and more consistently than Group A.  IMPLICATIONS.  The Goal Gradient Effect might play out in a variety of ways, including:  Raising funds: People will tend to increase the likelihood and size of donations for crowdfunding campaigns and/or charity fund drives as the campaigns are nearing their targets; Loyalty programs: People will tend to increase engagement in loyalty programs when they have a sense of rapid progress towards a goal and/or when such goals are broken down into interim stages; UX design: People will tend to stay engaged with a process, eg. signing up, loading time, or providing feedback, when they can see a progress bar and how they are moving towards an endpoint; Enabling change: People will tend to increase energy for change when they can see progress towards a goal and that they are nearing the ‘finish line’.    The main takeaway here is that when you’re designing a journey towards a goal, in whatever context, ensure that your audience can see their progress; consider using multiple interim goals; and experiment with providing the perception that they’ve already started on their journey by marking previously completed steps as done. One warning though, before you break everything down into smaller goals, keep in mind that after achieving a goal people might experience dips in motivation.  IN YOUR LATTICEWORK.  The Goal Gradient Effect can in part be explained in reverse by Activation Energy and the challenge of getting started. It also links to Loss Aversion and Hyperbolic Discounting, our tendency to overvalue short term smaller returns over distant, larger ones. Academics have posed a related concept of ‘endowed progress’ in relation to the completed steps towards a goal, which has links to the Endowment Effect and our tendency to overvalue our possessions. The tendency to stay in loyalty programs might also be related to past investment, which ties this model to the Sunk Cost Fallacy. Finally, Temporal Landmarks provide an interesting opposite of this effect, pointing to opportunities to create a fresh start. 

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