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18 mei 2020

Secondary gains

So, here we are. In a totally new situation, with a lot of new challenges. How to study at home? How to become productive with temptations like Netflix, Facebook or your bed so close? How to stay in contact with your friends, study mates and relatives? In the upcoming posts we try to help you with these questions and support you to make the best of it. This time on the psychological background of not doing what would be the best.

Nothing new

When you have goals to achieve like taking an exam, finishing a report or handing in a research paper you probably know what to do. You will think about ‘creating overview of the task’, ‘planning the necessary activities’ and maybe ‘get out of bed early tomorrow to start studying’. This is not the problem. The problems start when it’s time to bring your plan into action.

What’s behind this?

How is it possible we, sensible human beings, can think about all the necessary steps to become successful, tell ourselves that it’s important to really do what we have just planned for and then NOT do it? Is it the fact that we just can’t study in messy surroundings and that we have to clean up our entire room first? Is it the friend that proposes to sit down, relax a bit and watch a movie? Or is it some other thing that seems just a little bit more important to do first?

It’s funny, isn’t it?

So you set a goal for yourself. You think this goal is important for some reason so you determine some actions, make a planning, and then you don’t execute the planning so you don’t reach your goal. Afterwards, you are probably disappointed and maybe even mad about yourself. The fun part is that there is simply one thing that would have prevented you from all this: YOU should have done what YOU already thought was a GOOD IDEA. What is behind this crazy behaviour?

Secondary gains

The first gain is to achieve your goal, because you would make it to the next year, you would get a diploma or something else that you benefit from. The thing is, there might be something to gain when you DON’T try to reach your goal. We call them secondary gains. 


What could be the gain of NOT taking the exams? You don’t have to spent time to understand dull theories, put in the effort to practice with models, figures and formula’s and you can spent some more time in the pub.

What could be the gain of NOT taking the stage and present people your thoughts, ideas or vision? Well, you wouldn’t have to prepare a presentation and spent time practicing your speech and you wouldn’t have to listen to the feedback of your audience.

2 basic fears

These secondary gains mentioned above are the obvious ones. But there is more to dive into. People have two basis fears, that might be the reason you don’t do what you should do.

1.      The fear not to be good enough.

2.      The fear not to be liked or loved. 

Not going to the exams doesn’t confront you with the fact that you might not be capable of understanding this complicated stuff that the test is about. By not taking the stage and therefore not give the presentation you will not be in uncomfortable situation in which people disagree with you are disapprove your ideas.

Trying to achieve your goals might lead to failure or disapproval. That is something you – mostly unconsciously – try to avoid. Becoming conscious about this, leads to understanding your behaviour and helps you to make interventions to become more successful.

Have fun digging your psyche!