Business Magazine

Perceived Probability of Success and Achievement Cycle

Posted on the 06 March 2013 by Mdelp


Goal setting is such an engrained part of our culture that we celebrate them every New Years. Some of these goals are internally set (save more for retirement, lose weight, be happier, achieve a better work/life balance) and some are externally set (sales target in order to earn bonus).

What intrigues me about my goals is why I was able to be inspired to reach some goals while other goals I gave up before I even started.

The key it turns out was my perceived probability of success. Based on research by David McClelland of Harvard and John Atkinson of the University of Michigan it seems the motivation to achieve a goal is at its peak (100%) when we believe there is about a 50% probability of achieving that goal.

That means:

  • We do not become self motivated toward goal achievement when our perceived probability of success is virtually certain (100%) or virtually impossible (0%)
When you look at the gap that exist between where you are now and where you want to go, you need to have some confidence you can close the gap. McClelland and Atkinson’s research suggests the greatest level of motivation occurs when we perceive a 50% probability of success. Less than that and it’s not worth risking the increased probability of  failure. Greater, and it seems to be too easy to be worth the effort.

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