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Achieving Goals: The Role of Relative Progress and Emotional Intelligence

Setting goals is a crucial step toward personal and professional growth. However, when it comes to evaluating progress, people often overlook the significance of relative progress. Psychological research suggests that emotionally intelligent individuals understand the value of relative progress and use it to stay motivated on their journey toward achieving their goals. In this article, we will explore the impact of relative progress and highlight three important questions emotionally intelligent people ask themselves to maintain progress toward their biggest goals.

  1. The Pitfall of Concrete Goals:

A study published in Psychological Science reveals the negative-lumping effect associated with evaluating relative progress. People tend to perceive achieving only 80 percent of a goal as just as bad as achieving only 40 percent. This phenomenon holds true even when individuals accomplish substantial improvements but fall slightly short of the target. For instance, losing eight pounds out of a ten-pound weight loss goal might feel as defeating as losing only five pounds. The study suggests that calling for specific, concrete changes can motivate individuals to take action but unintentionally diminishes their appreciation for critical improvements that are still in progress.

  1. Recognizing Progress as Progress:

Embracing relative progress is essential when pursuing goals. Negative lumping often leads individuals to quit trying, perceiving any degree of failure as a complete failure. Moreover, others may view relative progress as a lack of effort and underappreciate the progress made. This can result in decreased support and encouragement from peers, hindering further development and growth. However, it is important to acknowledge that progress, regardless of its scale, is a step in the right direction.

  1. Three Key Questions for Continued Progress:

Emotionally intelligent individuals leverage relative progress by asking themselves three vital questions:

  1. What worked? Identifying the strategies and actions that led to progress allows individuals to build on their successes and continue moving forward.
  2. What didn’t work as well? Recognizing the areas where improvement is needed enables individuals to adjust their approach and overcome obstacles more effectively.
  3. What adjustments can I make? By analyzing the answers to the previous questions, individuals can make necessary modifications to their plans, ensuring continuous progress and growth.


Relative progress should be seen as an opportunity rather than a reason to give up. Emotionally intelligent individuals understand that it is crucial to embrace and leverage relative progress to achieve their goals. By focusing on what works, addressing areas that need improvement, and making necessary adjustments, they can maintain motivation and move closer to their desired outcomes. Remember, progress is progress, regardless of its magnitude. So, view relative progress as a stepping stone towards ultimate success and keep pushing forward until you reach your goals.


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