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December 31, 2021

Without strong action plans, experiencing anger while pursuing personal goals reduces persistence and goal achievement

Imagine that you establish a challenging personal goal for yourself. Perhaps you would like to stop smoking, increase your daily intake of fruit and vegetables, or finish an important project at work. While pursuing your goal, you feel angry or annoyed when others disturb you or when you lose self-control, and consequently, you thwart progress toward your goal. How does this feeling of anger affect your persistence and achievement of the goal?

The literature provides different answers for this question. Feeling annoyed may lead people to focus on the anger-eliciting event or stimulus, and this depletes the mental resources that are needed to continue to pursue the goal. Consequently, people are likely to disengage from the goal. However, other research shows that anger motivates people to persist in pursuing the goal.

We expected that the relationship between feelings of anger during goal pursuit and goal attainment would depend on the quality of the action plans that were developed to achieve the goal. We argued that high-quality action plans are detailed and focused on the long term. Furthermore, strong action plans consider future opportunities and hindrances and allow people to channel their actions toward their goals (Frese et al, 2007; Parke et al, 2018). When feelings of anger arise during goal pursuit, strong action plans help individuals remain on track and achieve their goals (Frese et al, 2007; Parke et al, 2018). When people do not develop strong action plans, they suffer from a lack of orientation and guidance‚ which makes it more difficult to mobilize energy and invest in further goal pursuit when anger occurs.

We tested these assumptions using two studies with student and employee samples. We first asked the participants to describe a personal goal they intended to achieve within the next seven to 14 days. We asked the participants about their action plans and feelings of anger during goal pursuit as well as their persistence, goal progress, and achievement one week later. The results from both studies showed that anger related to insufficient goal progress reduced persistence in the goal and negatively affected goal achievement in individuals without strong action plans. This confirmed our assumptions and aligned with previous research that concluded that individuals benefit from planning and considering ways to manage barriers and obstacles in the goal process (e.g., Gollwitzer, 1999). Inconsistent with our assumptions, the studies indicated that experiencing anger did not predict persistence and the attainment of goals when participants had strong action plans. Instead, for individuals with well-developed, future-oriented action plans, experiencing anger was unrelated to persistence and goal achievement. Thus, generating action plans does not guarantee that anger during goal pursuit will trigger persistence and the achievement of goals.


Main reference Schmitt, A., Gielnik, M. M., Seibel, S. (2019). When and how does anger during goal pursuit relate to goal achievement? The role of persistence and proactive and elaborate action planning. Motivation and Emotion, 43, 205–217. Other references Frese, M., Krauss, S. I., Keith, N., Escher, S., Grabarkiewicz, R., Luneng, S. T., Friedrich, C. (2007). Business owners’ action planning and its relationship to business success in three African countries. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1481–1498. Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493–503. Parke, M. R., Weinhardt, J. M., Brodsky, A., Tangirala, S., & DeVoe, S. E. (2018). When daily planning improves employee performance: The importance of planning type, engagement, and interruptions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 103, 300–312.

Written By

Dr. Antje Schmitt
University of Groningen, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, Department of Psychology

Contact Details

+003150 36 34837

Grote Kruisstraat 2
9712 TS Groningen

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