Perseverance may be a good trait, but a new study has revealed that it is better to drop a difficult goal to avoid chronic illness. Psychologists Gregory Miller and Carsten Wrosch developed a psychological instrument that can reliably distinguish between people who when faced with a difficult goal either persist or let go of it.
In a series of experiments, the psychologists exhaustively studied these two personality types to see how healthy and well adjusted they are. In their most recent study the psychologists followed teenagers for a full year. Over that time, individuals who did not persist to reach goals had much lower levels of a protein called CRP, an indicator of bodily inflammation.
Inflammation has recently been linked to several serious diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, suggesting that healthy but overly tenacious teens may already be on the road toward chronic illness later in life.
Accordingly, Miller and Wrosch suggest it may be wiser to cut one's losses in the face of an insurmountable obstacle. "When people are faced with situations in which they cannot realize a key life goal, the most adaptive response for physical and mental health may be to disengage from this goal," wrote the authors.
However all is not lost for go-getters since the psychologists also sorted both groups by their willingness to re-engage and set new goals after they gave up on something important.
While they did not find a direct link between re-engagement and physical health, they did find that people who readily jumped back into life had a greater sense of purpose and mastery and were less likely to ruminate about the past. Setting these new goals appears to buffer the emotional consequences of failure, especially for those who have the hardest time letting go.
The study is published in the September issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.