Cheating Is The Best Way To Reach High Goals — According To Science

On the road to success, you’re going to fail. If you accept that inevitability, what are you supposed to do about it? Well, according to a study from UCLA, the answer is to cheat.

The Study

Here’s what’s up: The study compared two ways of working towards big goals. One group was given a strict plan to meet their goal, while another group was given a more ambitious plan, but granted some wiggle room. Turns out the group that was allowed to cheat was more successful in achieving the goal than the group who wasn’t.

To test this hypothesis, the study looked at a few different goals — from exercising more, to acing a test, to earning a reward. For one piece of the study, a group of participants were told to go to the gym five days per week with no exceptions. The other group was told to go to the gym seven days per week, but were given two “emergency skip” days.

Turns out the group with “cheat days” exercised more than the group who had an easier training schedule.

Whether the researchers were looking at people given a lower bar on an exam vs extra credit on the exam, or easier tasks vs a harder ones that offered leeway, the answer was the same: giving yourself permission to “cheat’ is more effective than simply setting a more realistic goal to being with.

I tried it. It works.

And guess what, I tried this method, and it works. A few years ago, I was doing a project where I was told to teach 20 lessons per week with an expert there to support. Although I was teaching about 20 lessons every week, it was difficult to coordinate schedules with experts and the students. It felt like the obstacles were out of my control and, out of the 20 lessons I taught, only 3-5 had an expert present.

What’s more, when my partner and I made our weekly goals, we’d base them on our past performance. In other words, if we taught 4 lessons with an expert the week before, the next week we’d make a goal to teach 5 lessons with an expert present.

One day, we realized we were setting goals completely wrong. Goals shouldn’t be created with your past performance in mind. If so, I’d never make a goal to learn to play the banjo or to rock climb a 5.14a or become the CEO of a company, because I’ve done those things before.

So, that week, we set a goal to teach 25 lessons with an expert present. Guess what: That week, we taught 20 lessons with an expert.

What changed

What changed? Well, setting a goal that was higher than our original goal gave us that permission to fail. But what’s more, as we were reaching for those 25 lessons, we had to work harder and we had to think of innovative methods to reach it. To put it as cliche as possible: “Reach for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

So, moral of the story, if you want to accomplish more, set your goal above what you’re able and then give yourself those “cheat days” where you can eat that chocolate cheesecake (yum) instead of sticking to your fruits and veggies diet. We won’t tell if you don’t.


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