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Cognitive Science

A good action plan protects your goals from the negative impacts of anger, study finds

New research suggests that developing a strong action plan is important in preventing anger from disrupting your goals. The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, examined how anger impacted persistence while pursuing a goal.

“We were interested in when and why anger during the pursuit of personally relevant goals may facilitate or impede the achievement of these goals,” study author Antje Schmitt, an assistant professor at the University of Groningen.

“There are divergent perspectives in the literature on how anger in the process of goal pursuit, persistence, and goal achievement are related. Whereas some research suggests that the feeling of anger may support persistence in goal striving, some other literature argues that anger may reduce persistence.”

“Based on existing theory and previous research, we thought that action planning could be a key factor to explain these divergent perspectives. But so far, we had little knowledge on how the interplay of the feeling of anger and action planning affects the achievement of personal goals,” Schmitt explained.

In two studies, with 307 participants, the researchers found that anger was associated with a reduction in persistence and a decrease in goal achievement among those with poorer planning. Among participants who developed strong action plans, on the other hand, anger was not associated with persistence or goal achievement.

“Our results show that when people experience anger during the pursuit of personally relevant goals, their persistence in pursuing these goals is reduced given that they have not developed a strong action plan on how to reach these goals. This‚ in turn‚ makes it more likely that they will have problems in achieving their goals. Without a strong detailed and future-oriented action plan it is more difficult for people to accomplish their goals persistently when anger during goal pursuit arises,” Schmitt told PsyPost.

“Developing a good action plan on how to attain personal relevant goals is important. Training intervention studies show that people can be taught to develop action plans.”

The study — like all research — includes some limitations.

“We were not satisfied with the way we measured action planning in the second of the two studies. We believe that future research needs to better address the measurement of action planning and use better measures,” Schmitt said.

In the first study, participants were asked to explain one personal goal that they intended to achieve within the next two weeks and then describe how they planned to achieve that goal. Two independent research assistants rated the quality of action planning.

In the second study, participants were asked to explain one personal goal that they intended to achieve within the next two weeks. Then, their action planning was assessed by asking how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as “I thought about several possible ways before working on my tasks” and “I made very detailed plans how to accomplish my tasks.”

“Moreover, we argued that being persistent in striving towards personal relevant goals has positive consequences for individuals. However, in some situations it can be more effective for people to disengage from a personal goal, for instance, when this goal is unrealistic or it can be more effective to, at least, adapt the action plan to reach that goal instead of persistently following an action plan that turns out to be dysfunctional,” Schmitt added.

The study, “When and how does anger during goal pursuit relate to goal achievement? The roles of persistence and action planning“, was authored by Antje Schmitt, Michael M. Gielnik, and Sebastian Seibel.