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Are You Approach Or Avoidance Motivated? A Mini Quiz

What gets you moving? When you have a goal or need a change, what’s top of mind; the reward – or the avoidance of a loss?

Today’s SKILL WEEKLY talks about the pros and cons of each, and has a mini-quiz about your self-control motivation, and how to use it to your advantage!

Approach V. Avoidance Motivation

Approach motivated people tend to focus more on the rewarding outcome as the motivating factor in pursuing goals. The more likely the reward, the more likely we are to take more risks, even at the possible cost of mistakes.

On the other hand, avoidance motivated people are more likely to be cautious and conservative in their choices to prevent mistakes or failures. The question is, which works best to achieve the success we seek?

The Role of Time

The difference in successful outcomes (i.e. self control) between avoidance driven versus reward driven goal setting may depend on when you start planning. According to Elliot (2006) avoidance motivation focuses on promoting survival (i.e. just getting through the moment), where approach motivation promotes our growth, thriving, and development.

Avoidance Works in the Short-Term.

Numerous studies have shown that avoidance oriented strategies (e.g. distraction) are more helpful in combating temptation than approach oriented or reward based behaviors. For example in studies where a smaller immediate reward is presented, but a larger one awaits if the participant is willing to forgo the salient short term reward.

But these studies have predominantly examined self-control in the context of immediate outcomes. Like when you’re offered that delicious desert. But you know you wanna fit in your skinny jeans for an upcoming date! In these types of immediate gratification situations, control strategies are more successful.

Researchers have also called this a prevention focus: more intent is placed on security, responsibility and safety. From this perspective we’re more concerned with setting goals that protect us and fulfilling obligations (Higgins, et. Al., 2001).

Approach Works Over Longer Time.

On the other hand, approach motivation strategies work best for building towards bigger picture, longer-term successes. Approach motivation is more aligned with a promotion focus: hopes, accomplishments and ideals are top of mind. Goals are more related to the personal advancement and potential gains.

This regulation strategy has been found to predict goal and task mastery, greater persistence, enjoyment and performance (e.g., Elliot & Church, 1997; Elliot & Thrash, 2002).

Here we have our eyes firmly on our big picture values in making decisions about our life direction. Our values, and what we hold as most important, give dignity to the discomfort of forgoing immediate gratification!


Promotion versus Prevention: A Mini Quiz

So which is your style? Below are some questions borrowed from the Composite Regulatory Focus Questionnaire (Haws, Dholakia & Bearden, 2010).


Prevention Focus

Avoidance Motivation: Following the Rules

1. I usually obeyed rules and regulations that were established by my parents.

2. Not being careful enough has gotten me into trouble at times.

3. I worry about making mistakes.

4. I frequently think about how I can prevent failures in my life.

5. I see myself as someone who is primarily striving to become the self I “ought” to be to fulfill my duties, responsibilities and obligations.


Promotion Focus

Approach Motivation: Looking to your Values

1. When it comes to achieving things that are important to me, I find that I perform close to as well as I would ideally like to do.

2. I feel like I have made progress toward being successful in my life.

3. When I see an opportunity for something I like, I get excited right away.

4. I frequently imagine how I will achieve my hopes and aspirations.

5. I see myself as someone who is primarily striving to reach my “ideal self” to fulfill my hopes, wishes, and aspirations.


Both motivation styles can be helpful – at the right time! When we’re faced with a short term motivation conflict (e.g chocolate cake is offered when we’re trying to reduce sugar. Or when there’s a great party, but you have a test in the morning.) The former will help get your through most successfully.

But when you’re working on being proactive, rather than reactive; building a life beyond the tasks of adulting – avoidance and prevention strategies can lead to missed opportunities.


The Practice: Identifying Values

When you need a compass for your life direction, your True North Values will give power to the pull of possibilities. While considering the place you want to go, versus where you are may be painful initially, there are some simple questions you can ask yourself to see if you’re on course.

The Practice.

Ask yourself the following questions to start getting an idea of the kind of adult you want to be and become.

  1. As a friend, I would like to be the kind of person who _____________________, and shows this in my actions by ______________________________________.
  2. In my career, I would like to be the kind of person who __________________________, and shows this in my actions by _________ _____________________________________________.
  3. As a _______________(other area of your life), I would like to be the kind of person who ___________________________________, and shows this in my actions by___________________________________________________.



I hope you find this blog helpful! If you have any questions, shoot me a message in the comments section. We’re all in this thing called Mastering-Adulthood together. So, let me know if you have any questions about how to be skillful with your emotions and building a life you love! And, may you BE-Well.

This blog was inspired by Dr. Fielding’s upcoming book: Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grownup. To learn more helpful skills for Mastering Adulthood, sign up for the Mindful-Mastery SKILL WEEKLY newsletter, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Or YouTube for skills videos!


Are You Approach Or Avoidance Motivated? A Mini Quiz

Dr. Fielding

Lara Fielding is a licensed Clinical Psychologist, who teaches, supervises, and specializes in the Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapies (CBT). Her private practice is in Los Angeles, where she is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and a Supervisor Psychologist at the UCLA Department of Psychology Clinic. Dr. Fielding teaches clients how to master the auto-pilot tendencies of the mind-body emotional system with mindfulness and self-care skills. As a behavioral psychologist, she works with clients to empower their skillfulness in managing stress and regulating difficult emotions. The skills she teaches are based on her research at UCLA, Harvard, and Peperdine, to incorporate the psycho-physiology of stress, emotion and cognition. Dr. Fielding has exhaustively studied the Mindfulness-Based CBT treatments (DBT, ACT, MBSR, MBCT) and their application for problems with Emotion Dysregulation. From this study, she derived a set of therapist guidelines for evidence-based practice. Dr. Fielding’s work is further informed by her research experience at UCLA and Harvard. Her research there explored the relationship between health behavior and the psycho-physiological effects of stress on cognition and emotion. Dr. Fielding is trained and experienced working with groups and individuals suffering from the effects of traumatic experiences, anxiety, and mood disorders. She has taught hundreds of clients concrete skills to better manage difficult emotions in the face of stressful life situations. With these cognitive and emotional skills in place, clients are guided towards personal values consistent behavioral change, in order to achieve their life goals.

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APA Reference
Fielding, L. (2018). Are You Approach Or Avoidance Motivated? A Mini Quiz. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Apr 2018
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