The Backup Plan Paradox - Deepstash
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The Key Points

The Key Points

Backup plans can undermine goal pursuit by devaluing the rewards associated with achieving a goal, thus reducing motivation.

Backup plans draw tangible and psychological resources away from your primary goal in both the planning and execution stages.

Students can focus on superordinate and concurrent goals as ways to have backup plans while limiting their impact on motivation and performance.

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MILEY CYRUS

Accept reality and have a backup plan, but always follow your dreams no matter what.

MILEY CYRUS

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HENRY CAVILL

If you have a backup plan, then you’ve already admitted defeat.

HENRY CAVILL

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The Problem With A Backup Plan

The Problem With A Backup Plan

  • A backup plan is self-sabotage, imbuing doubt in the value of our goal and/or our ability to complete it.
  • Backup plans can devalue the rewards that come from achieving a goal and, thus, demotivate you to complete that goal. 
  • Backup plans undermine our goals by gobbling up finite resources.
  • Goal shielding refers to the automatic, subconscious process by which our brains inhibit intrusive thoughts so that we can focus on goal pursuit.

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Sunk Cost Fallacy

Sunk Cost Fallacy

One may become biased toward the backup plan due to the sunk cost fallacy. Although this phenomenon normally refers to our tendency to stick to plans longer than we should because we’ve invested heavily in them (i.e., “throwing good money after bad”), the more resources we commit to our backup plan, the more likely we are to change course. So creating a backup plan often begets using the backup plan.

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Two Key Strategies: Superordinate Goals

Two Key Strategies: Superordinate Goals

Backup plans are risky business. They decrease desire and commitment to the initial goal, create an additional cognitive burden, and ultimately hinder performance. 

Nobody wants to be a nurse, teacher, or engineer in a vacuum. Students learn in order to help other people, expand knowledge, build things, or satisfy other self-relevant needs while also earning a living wage. Discussing important decisions in service of students’ superordinate goals may help them stay focused on what really matters, even if they need to switch their major, program, or career path in order to achieve it.

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Two Key Strategies: Pursue Concurrent Goals

Two Key Strategies: Pursue Concurrent Goals

Superordinate goals can also afford the opportunity to pursue concurrent goals.

For example, if you want to lose weight, you can consume fewer calories and exercise more; it’s not an either-or situation and neither strategy must be relegated to “backup plan.” But students can only take so many classes at once and often cannot be in two programs simultaneously. To the extent possible, colleges should facilitate and nudge students toward classes, internships, and other experiences that help them progress toward both Plans A and B.

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