There is a married couple – let’s call them Mary and Tom, and they a have an 18-month-old son who is starting to learn to walk.
Mary is more concerned when it comes to the safety of her son while he embarks on his journey. She packs away all the objects that her son might trip over in the lounge, she inserts a lockable gate at the entrance to the lounge area so that her son might not stray too far, she gets him to wear non-slip soled shoes, and if she had her way she’d get him to wear a helmet…just in case. She also follows him around closely to be there if he falls over.
Tom, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. He leaves objects lying around- not for his son to trip over but rather to learn to negotiate his way around. He leaves the gate open so that his son can explore. He keeps a watchful eye from a distance to see how his son reacts if he does fall over, but close enough to comfort him if he does hurt himself.
Ultimately they both want their son to learn to walk but they view it from a different angle.
For Mary, it’s a prevention focus goal and for Tom, it’s a promotion focus goal. This doesn’t mean that one is always a positive person and the other a pessimist, but rather that the same goal can be approached with a different focus. But the different focus needs different thought patterns and strategies…
Promotion Focus Goals vs Prevention Focus Goals
- Tom is eager to see his son achieve the art of walking properly – he puts obstacles in his way to see what he will do next and how he will overcome them so that he will accomplish walking – Promotion Focus
- Mary would rather keep her son safe and out of harm’s way while he learns to walk – Prevention Focus
Here are the traits differentiating the two:
- Achievement or accomplishment related – How to study more effectively to get a better grade.
- Related to something we’d ideally like to do – become fitter to make the “A” team at a sport.
- Maximising gains – learning a new skill
- An optimistic viewpoint – is more conducive to success.
- More risk.
- Safety and prevention related – Wearing protective gear while going for an outride so not to potentially get hurt.
- Fulfilling responsibilities or the things we “ought” to do – Eliminating time wasting so that we can study more to get a better grade.
- Minimising losses – Saving money so to be able to purchase that next big thing.
- A touch of pessimism – makes one look out for potential pitfalls.
- A safer approach.
Neither of the above is the “right” way or the “wrong” way to approach a goal. It depends on how we identify the goal and identify whether we want to gain something or prevent losing it. This helps to determine the focus and the strategy.