In the Gale app, we ask you to set a weekly target for the behavior you would like to change. We have chosen this period of time for two specific reasons.
First, a good amount of research in psychology shows that people’s motivation is highest when goals are in the “sweet spot” between too easy and too difficult.
For example, if you’re a couch potato who hasn’t exercised in years, you’re probably going to feel overwhelmed (and under-motivated) at the thought of jumping into a 7-days-per-week routine that you have to maintain for the next 6 months.
Likewise, your motivation to change probably won’t be incredibly high if your goal was simply to go for a 2-minute stroll today (without any thought about tomorrow or beyond).
Rather, your motivation would likely be highest if you chose something challenging but not overwhelming, say, going for a 30-minute walk three times this week.
A second reason why we have chosen 1 week as our target period has to do with a phenomenon known as delay discounting, which refers to a tendency to devalue outcomes that are far in the future.
To illustrate, consider which of the following options you would prefer:
$100 now or $100 in 1 week
Even though both options are worth the same amount, most people prefer the money now. Why? Because when we have to wait for an outcome, it tends to lose psychological value.
What about this choice?:
$100 now or $300 in 1 week
Now, many people are willing to wait 1 week for $300 because the outcome is larger and because 1 week isn’t that long to wait—1 week doesn’t devalue $300 very much.
What about $100 now or $300 in 2 years?
If you’re like most people, you probably preferred the $100 option. Why? Because adding a 2-year wait devalues $300 psychologically to the point where it’s not worth as much as $100 now.
In short, by re-establishing your goals on a weekly basis, you’re focusing on a period of time that will likely be “long” enough for you to feel optimally challenged but also “short” enough that the psychological “value” of accomplishing your goals will remain high. Moreover, if you string together many weeks of meeting your goals, you’ll eventually get where you want to be.