Is a ‘Progress Bias’ Keeping You from Reaching Your Goals?

dumbbells on the floorWe all want to improve ourselves and our lives, but change is rarely easy. One study found that 80% of dieters eventually gain the weight back, and failure rates are similar for other goals. A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that a “progress bias” can lead goal-setters to think they’re making more progress than they really are. This misplaced optimism can actually impede progress.

The Progress Bias: When Optimism Is Harmful

Making progress is much more difficult than falling off the wagon. If you’re trying to get out of debt, for example, foregoing a small purchase might be more memorable than the $200 you blew at the mall last week. When you look back on your advancement toward your goal, you may believe you’re making progress more quickly than you actually are.

Researchers wanted to explore how this progress bias might affect the ability to achieve goals. They conducted seven different trials to evaluate participants’ emotions about a wide variety of goals. They found that participants placed more importance on the “good” choices they made, and that this often caused them to neglect the power of “bad” choices. A person might think that passing on a piece of cake makes a bigger difference than eating that same slice of cake.

Over time, these memories of progress add up. A person who sets out to achieve a goal may remember all of the progress he or she has made while forgetting all of the slip-ups. This bias not only makes it more difficult for people to achieve their goals, it also makes it challenging for them to understand why they fail. A person who’s trying to lose weight may believe that genetic bad luck or a slow metabolism is to blame for his or her lack of progress. But in reality, a progress bias may lead dieters to believe they’re working harder than they actually are.

The study’s authors argue that this progress bias causes people to stop working toward a goal before they should. If you’re having trouble achieving your goals, it may be time to consider whether your progress bias interferes with your ability to recognize and put into perspective your setbacks.


  1. Do diets work? (2004, January 13). Retrieved from
  2. How to avoid failing at weight loss. (2015, March 5). Retrieved from

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  • Ashlyn


    March 11th, 2015 at 3:41 AM

    so in essence we sabotage ourselves and keep ourselves from ever achieving much real progress because we see only what we wish to see as an accomplishment and then kind of wipe away the times when we don’t do so well

  • Jesse


    March 11th, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    This was so talking to me, and if we are truthful, I think that it is probably speaking to all of us but for the most part we choose to ignore it.

    You can never move ahead until you are also willing to look very clearly at the things that could potentially be holding you back

  • vera s.

    vera s.

    March 12th, 2015 at 12:16 PM

    man those rose colored glasses…
    always so pretty to look through
    but rarely do they show you the truth

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