Walk the line: Balancing conflicting goals through tension systems
Chua, Sook Ning
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Although our society esteems individuals who achieve it all, the 24-hour day and our limited resources means that attaining multiple goals is a difficult undertaking. This research draws upon Lewin’s theorizing on goal conflict and goal interruption to predict how individuals balance important conflicting goals. We predict that when an individual experiences goal conflict, the individual will prioritize his/her goals by moving towards one goal. Counter-intuitively however, we also hypothesize that this movement away from the competing goal will facilitate its pursuit, thus enabling goal balancing. We suggest that when the individual moves towards goal A, the competing goal B’s progress is interrupted. The psychological incompletion of goal B causes its state of tension to persist and consequently the individual feels the need to resume the goal. Accordingly, we expect affective and motivational consequences to this conflict-induced goal interruption. We found support for our hypotheses in 2 experiments that examined the conflict between academic and relationship goals. When individuals who are high in chronic relationship commitment experience goal conflict, they reported higher state relationship commitment (Chapter 2 and 3) and lower academic commitment (Chapter 3), relative to individuals who are low in chronic relationship commitment. However, in support of our conflict-induced goal interruption hypothesis, they also report lower partner affect (Chapter 2) and better performance in an academic-related task (Chapter 3).