Newswise — Want to lose weight? Save money? Ask yourself ‘why’ not ‘how’.

It sounds counterintuitive but people who formulate a detailed plan to achieve a goal, such as saving money, may have a harder time reaching that goal. What matters more, according to assistant professor Julia Bayuk, is thinking about why they want to reach it.

Bayuk, a faculty member in the department of Business Administration, recently published a study on this topic in the “Journal of Consumer Research.”

“Planning can actually make you more narrow minded,” she said. “I might be so focused on this plan that when there’s other opportunities to achieve the same goal, I might not take advantage of them.”

Bayuk gives the example of losing weight, a goal that can be reached through numerous avenues. If a dieter plans to restrict her calorie intake she might pass up the opportunity to join a friend at the gym or run with her dog.

Bayuk and her collaborators, Chris Janiszewski and Robyn LeBouef of the University of Florida, conducted experiments to test consumer behavior. The results varied based on mindset – abstract or concrete. Those with abstract mindsets concentrated on why they wanted to achieve the goal. The concrete group focused on how.

In one test, the researchers asked participants in both mindsets to save money. Some were asked to formulate a plan; others were not advised to plan. All were later given the chance to buy snacks. The group that best avoided temptation was the abstract thinkers. Concrete thinkers who planned fared worst.

As the holidays including New Year’s approach, Bayuk recommends bucking traditional thinking about planning, suggesting instead that you put yourself in the right mindset and stay there. Try placing notes in strategic spots with reminders about why your resolution matters.

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Journal of Consumer Research (Dec. 2010)