Making Up for Failure: A Simple Nudge to Improve Goal Persistence

Shannon Duncan, PhD Candidate, The Wharton School, and Marissa Sharif, Marketing, The Wharton School

Abstract: Consumers often struggle reaching long-term goals (e.g., losing weight, learning a new language). Thus, many consumers seek out companies to help them reach their goals (e.g., FitBit, Duolingo). One challenge companies face is motivating consumers after small failures. Prior research has found small failures (e.g., eating dessert or skipping workouts) often lead consumers to believe there is a low chance of reaching their larger goal (e.g., losing weight/staying fit), causing goal abandonment (e.g., Cochran and Tesser 1996; Soman and Cheema 2004). Our research introduces an innovative nudge aimed at increasing goal persistence: making up for failure. If consumers fail their goal today (e.g., do not work out for 20 minutes), they are encouraged to make up for that failure tomorrow (e.g., work out 40 minutes tomorrow). Building off work on goal flexibility (Beshears et al. 2021; Sharif and Shu 2021), we suggest making up for failure could increase goal persistence for two reasons. First, it makes the consequences of goal failure more salient (i.e., having to do double tomorrow), motivating them to work today. Second, when failure occurs, it provides a mechanism to ease the pain. Companies could leverage this innovation in goal tracking technology to increase consumer goal persistence.