What motivates us more than most anything else?

Progress. I’ve posted about this before.

In his excellent blog Mind Hacks, Vaughan Bell points out that we don’t even need to make real progress — the illusion of progress is enough to light that fire:

I just came across a fantastic study published in the Journal of Marketing Research which shows that we can be convinced to shift into a higher gear of work and spending, even when the perception of progress is a complete illusion.

And:

They did an experiment where they gave some customers a ‘buy ten get one free’ card, while others got a ‘buy twelve get one free card’ but with the first two stamps already filled in.

In practical terms, the loyalty scheme was identical, but the customers bought coffees more quickly to full up the ‘buy twelve’ cards in less time – in line with ‘goal gradient hypothesis’ – despite the fact that the actual progress towards the goal was no different.

The researchers call this the ‘illusory goal progress’ effect and shows that our perception of how close we are to achieving something can be easily manipulated by shifting the goal posts.

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