Self-regulatory responses to unattainable goals : the role of goal motives

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Does motivation for goal pursuit predict how individuals will respond when confronted with unattainable goals? Two studies examined the role of autonomous and controlled motives when pursuing an unattainable goal without (Study 1) or with (Study 2) the opportunity to reengage in alternative goal pursuit. Autonomous motives positively predicted the cognitive ease of reengagement with an alternative goal when the current goal was perceived as unattainable, especially when participants realized goal unattainability relatively early during goal striving. Autonomous motives, however, were negative predictors of cognitive ease of disengagement from an unattainable goal. When faced with failure, autonomously motivated individuals are better off realizing early the goal unattainability. Otherwise, they will find it difficult to disengage cognitively from the pursued goal (despite reengaging cognitively in an alternative goal), possibly due to interfering rumination.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)594-612
JournalSelf and Identity
Issue number5
Early online date25 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Goal pursuit, Goal regulation, Disengagement, Reengagement, Goal motives