If you are on a diet, just skipping dessert can seem like a huge accomplishment, making you think that you're well on your way to losing weight. However, new research says people tend to overestimate progress and underestimate setbacks when pursuing goals such as dieting or saving money.
Authors of a new study Margaret C. Campbell of University of Colorado and Caleb Warren of Texas AM University say: "Our studies provide strong evidence of a progress bias when consumers pursue goals. Consumers tend to think that 'good' behaviours impact goal pursuit more than equivalent 'bad' behaviours. This can make consumers think that they are doing fine when they really aren't," they said.
Across seven studies, the authors found evidence for the progress bias when consumers pursued goals such as saving money, losing weight, or winning a game.
Consumers tend to believe they will succeed in achieving their goals and give more weight to behaviours consistent with their beliefs.
For example, if you are on a diet, you are likely to think that not eating a donut makes a bigger difference than eating a donut.
"People feel that they can stop working towards a goal before they really should. This is consistent with findings that exercise programmes often do not lead to weight loss because people tend to think they can eat more if they exercise more.
"We think the progress bias helps explain why consumers often have a hard time achieving difficult long-term goals such as managing their weight or saving for retirement," the authors concluded.
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Research.