The power of a head start

By Hilary VizelIllustration of Coffee purchase and Loyalty Card

That loyalty coffee card you carry in your wallet? You may have noticed you’re more likely to buy your friend a coffee or go a few minutes out of your way when you’re just a stamp or two away from a free one. In fact, studies have shown that we’re more likely to keep and complete a 10-stamp card if it has the first two stamps filled than an eight-stamp card that starts blank. It’s the same number of coffees, but it creates an illusion of progress. Psychologists call this the Goal Gradient Effect: seeing that we’re close to completing a goal is fiercely motivating. It helps explain why dieters fall off the wagon when their goals seem insurmountable, why typing just a title and table of contents makes writing a report feel truly underway, and why saving for something so huge and distant as retirement feels truly hard to grasp.

Use this knowledge: Got a daunting task ahead of you? Try splitting it into a series of smaller goals. If you’re saving for something large and abstract, like an emergency fund, start by setting a more achievable milestone. Aim to save $1,000 by the end of the year. You can set a new target once you’re there.

Make saving as easy as spending

Set a goal and make it happen.