Results of their study were published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
The authors found that when people focus on concrete aspects of how they want to achieve goals, they become more closed-minded and less likely to take advantage of opportunities that fall outside their plans. And, in contrast, people who focus on the why are more likely to consider out-of-plan opportunities to achieve their goals.
Researchers conducted four experiments to examine consumer behavior when it came to the goal of saving money. In one study, people were asked to list a specific plan to save money, whereas others were not asked to plan. Then some people were asked to focus on why they wanted to save money. Subsequently, all participants were given the opportunity to buy candy.
Consumers who were thinking concretely and formed a specific plan were less able to avoid the candy purchase then those who had not formed a plan. However, among the abstract thinkers, those who had formed a plan were better able to avoid the candy purchase.
"Planning is more effective when people think abstractly, keep an open mind, and remind themselves of why they want to achieve a goal," the authors write. "This strategy is especially effective when the plan turns out to be infeasible (cheaper restaurant is too far away, gym is closed today for a holiday) or when other goal-directed activities become available (walk instead of taking a cab, eat a healthier meal)."