The progress bar doesn’t just tell you how much time you’ve got left on that new album download. It’s also the key to getting what you want.
You put forth more effort to reach a goal when you can visualize how close you are to achieving it, according to a new study in the Journal of Marketing.
Picture it: Study volunteers could sustain their grip longer and use more force in a physical task if they saw a bar on a computer screen fill in 2 minutes vs. if they saw a stopwatch counting down for the same amount of time. Even waiting for tech support on the phone was more bearable if people had an image representing how close they were to getting a response compared to seeing a countdown.
“Being able to visualize the finish elicits a feeling of closeness to the goal,” says study author Rajesh Bagchi, Ph.D., assistant professor of marketing of Virginia Tech University. “Seldom do we want to give up when we feel we have almost made it.” It’s like mountain climbing—you wouldn’t throw in the towel when you’re 20 feet from the summit.
Whether your goal is to save cash, lose weight, finish a 10K, or hit your numbers at work, here are three rules to make this technique work for you.
1. Draw It Out
For that 10K, you’ll need to run 6 miles. Right now you can only make it through two. No problem: Draw a bar with zero on one side and a six on the other. As you gradually increase the distance you can run without stopping, color in the bar, Bagchi recommends.
2. Add Other Visual Cues
Want to bench press 250 pounds? Use a progress bar that gets bigger as you add on weights. Or if you’re aiming to save $500 for a new iPad, draw stacks of dollar bills, shading them in as you put them in the bank. This helps you see success even more clearly.
3. Keep It Big-Picture
The technique didn’t work as well when study participants focused on smaller goals along the way. “People tend to take a break—a well-earned breather—after achieving a sub-goal. This decreases the overall benefit of being able to visualize an end goal,” Bagchi says. So avoid breaking up your monthly sales goals into weekly targets, or visualize losing 2 pounds a week instead of 10 pounds this month. Create your chart with the end goal in mind.