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date: 23 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses how people can adapt when goals are unattainable and protect their psychological well-being and physical health. It is argued that the experience of unattainable goals can elicit emotional distress and contribute to patterns of biological dysregulation and physical health problems. However, individuals can avoid these negative consequences of goal failure if they disengage from unattainable goals, protect their emotional and motivational resources, and engage in other meaningful goals. The literature review includes studies examining (a) specific self-regulation processes in response to an unattainable goal and (b) individual difference in self-regulation tendencies applied across different situations. Studies on specific self-regulation processes show that the use of goal disengagement, self-protective, and goal re-engagement processes is associated with high levels of subjective well-being, and these processes become particularly important in older adulthood when individuals confront increasing developmental constraints on the pursuit of their personal goals. In addition, studies examining general self-regulation tendencies show that goal disengagement capacities can reduce levels of negative emotions and thereby contribute to adaptive biological functioning and good physical health. Goal re-engagement capacities, by contrast, did not predict health-related outcomes but were significantly associated with aspects of subjective well-being. Implications of these findings for adaptive development and future directions are discussed.

Keywords: self-regulation, subjective well-being, physical health, goal disengagement, goal re-engagement, secondary control, lifespan development, age

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