The Delmore Effect, as defined by Paul Whitmore PhD dissertation (unable to find a good copy online), is our tendency to provide more articulate and explicit goals for lower priority areas of our lives. It appears that the daunting nature of truly important goals may motivate the self to deflect this anxiety by attending to less important, but also less threatening goals.

The best way to counter to Delmore Effect is to recall a success that is not relevant to the important goal.

To spot your life’s guiding star – Paul Whitmore

I grabbed this from a now-defunct Stanford intraweb page:

My research built upon the well-grounded observation that people can accomplish more when they set clear goals.Almost everyone recognizes the great value of setting goals.

Still, most people tend to set much more explicit goals for low priority domains than for their most important ambitions. (This lapse is labeled the Delmore Effect, after the failed poet, Delmore Schwartz).

It seemed reasonable that this neglect of the most important could be reversed if people first reflected on their past achievements in that important life area. In fact, such an exercise made the Delmore Effect slightly worse. Another experiment demonstrated that distractions, per se, don’t help. But finally, by thinking first about related goals which were not of top-priority, people finally managed to overcome the Delmore Effect.

Astronomers know to look slightly away from the point at which they expect to locate a star. Analogously, when a person aims to most clearly articulate her own guiding goals, she would be more successful by calling to mind the values which are peripherally related and supportive of her complete self.

Instead of directly confronting the value of greatest import, a person can become more articulate about their central life goals by taking a slightly less direct approach.


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