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Deciding & Planning Mindsets (1990) Gollwitzer


Decision and Planning mind- sets prepare us to solve different problems and affect the ideas we produce and how we process and remember information.


“Goal setting and goal striving differ in nature.”

Gollwitzer, P. M., Heckhausen, H., & Steller, B. (1990). Deliberative and implemental mind- sets: Cognitive tuning toward congruous thoughts and information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59(6), 1119–1127.

Research Story

Goals can be thought of in four phases: Deciding, Planning, Acting, and Evaluating. Each of these phases has a different problem to solve, and therefore a different mindset. Three researchers from Germany studied the decision and planning mindsets to see how it affects our thoughts.

In Study 1 they asked 97 students to either weigh the pros and cons of an unresolved personal decision or to make a detailed plan for how to pursue a pressing personal project. This got them into either a deciding or planning mindset. Then they were given a fairy tale (a king had to go to war, but had nobody to whom he could entrust his young daughter) and asked to compose the next three lines of the story. They found that the mindset they were in carried over into how they finished the fairy tales. However, it was a slim margin because to finish a fairy tale, you have to solve the problem, so they didn’t write much about standing around deciding.

In Study 2, they . . . 69 students were given a choice of creative materials
to decide between for an art project. They put students into either a deciding mindset (left them deliberating) or a planning mindset (asked them to make a decision). Then they showed them 8 scenarios of people trying to decide whether to do something with 4 thoughts for each: two thoughts weighing pros and cons (deciding mindset) and two thoughts about when and how to do it (planning mindset). They took a 5 minute break and were then given the pictures of the 8 scenarios and asked to recall the thoughts of the people. Students in a deciding mindset remembered more deciding mindset thoughts and students in a planning mindset remembered more planning mindset thoughts.

A person’s present mindset changes the kind of ideas they produce and the kinds of information they remember.

The researchers propose that goal setting (deciding) and goal striving (planning and acting) require different mindsets, which then influence your thoughts and the ideas youy come up with as well as the information you pay attention to and how you use that information. Because goal setting and goal striving are different mindset, they need different theories about how they work

Note: in the paper deciding mindset was called deliberative mind-set and planning mindset was called implemental mind-set.

So What – Application

If goal setting and goal striving are different constructs and require different mindsets, it would explain why a lot of goal setting advice works to identify the goal, but not to plan and execute loops of action toward its completion.

We could use different lan- gauge and analogies when talking about goal setting and goal execution. For example, Life Changing Principles recommends goal loops where you break down goal pursuit into smaller chunks and check in with goal progress frequently asking what went well and why, what didn’t go well, and what we are learning.

A small secondary principle is that any mindset you can put yourself in carries over to the tasks that follow. So reminding ourselves of a growth mindset, for example, right before a task where we are likely to struggle or fail, could help us maintain a growth mindset throughout the task.

Peter Gollwitzer