Commitments to goals are theorized to affect behavior change outcomes, but competing theories argue for hard to achieve goals and strategic sub-goals as optimum strategies for success. This study aimed to explore whether the nature of the goal affects smoking cessation outcomes. A total of 1043 participants in a randomized controlled trial of variations to an automated computer generated cessation advice program, who had made a quit attempt were asked at 1 month post quit about the initial goal they had set at the time of making the attempt. They were also followed up at 6 months post quit. Compared with those reporting 'seeing how it will go', those who reported the goal of 'taking it a cigarette at a time' were less likely to be quit at 1 month, while those with the most ambitious goal, to 'never smoke again', were more likely to be quit, and were more likely to maintain abstinence for 6 months. Indeed, 'taking it a cigarette at a time' was associated with greater short-term relapse. There is likely to be a benefit in encouraging smokers to set ambitious long-term goals rather than setting intermediate or non-specific goals.
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