In a new study, researchers found people who make concrete plans to meet their goals may engage in more physical activity, including visits to the gym, compared to those who don’t plan quite so far ahead.
The finding suggests that a personality trait called ‘planfulness’ may translate into real-world differences in behavior.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of Oregon.
Some people seem to be able to more consistently meet their goals than others, but it remains unclear if personality traits that have been found to promote goal achievement in the lab similarly encourage individuals to achieve long-term goals in their day-to-day lives.
Conscientiousness, a measure of individuals’ orderliness and dependability on the Big Five Inventory of personality, has long been tied with healthy behaviors.
Narrowing their focus to a single facet of this trait, planfulness, allows researchers to zero in on the psychological processes—such as mental flexibility, and a person’s ability to make short-term sacrifices in pursuit of future success—that contribute directly to achieving long-term goals.
The team examined the gym attendance of 282 people over a 20-week period.
The participants, many of whom were students, provided a written description of their exercise plans and completed measures of self-control and grit, in addition to the Big Five Inventory of personality and Ludwig and colleagues’ 30-item Planfulness Scale.
The team found all participants experienced a similar decline in gym attendance over the course of each semester.
But individuals who rated themselves high on planfulness items such as “developing a clear plan when I have a goal is important to me” went to the gym more throughout both semesters compared to those who ranked themselves lower on planfulness.
The team says there indeed appears to be a certain way of thinking about goals that correlates with long-term progress.
The lead author of the study is Rita M. Ludwig of the University of Oregon.
The study is published in Psychological Science.
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