Personal Projects Analysis

A personal project is a set of relevant actions intended to achieve a goal that a person has selected. Psychologist Brian Little believes that personal projects make natural units for understanding the workings of personality , because they reflect ho people face up to the serious business of navigating through daily life. Most people, if asked, are able to make a list of the important projects that they work on in their daily lives, such goals as to lose weight, to do homework, to make new friends, to start and maintain an exercise program, to send away for graduate school applications, to develop a better relationship with God, and to find some principles to live b . People typically have many goals which come and go in their day-to-day lives—one project is more important today , a different one is important tomorrow—as well as other projects that are more ongoing.

Little developed the Personal Projects Analysis method for assessing personal projects. Participants first generate a list of their personal projects, as many or as fe as they deem relevant. Most participants list an average of 15 personal projects that are currently important in their daily lives. Next, participants rate each project on several scales, such as how important the project is to them, how dif ficult it is, how muc they enjoy working on it, how much progress they have made on it, and the negative and positive impacts it has had in their lives.

Personal Projects Analysis has a number of interesting implications for understanding personality. Researchers have investigated the relation between the Big Five personality traits (discussed in Chapter 3) and aspects of personal projects. Little (1999) reports several interesting relationships. For example, people who score high on the trait of neuroticism are also likely to rate their personal projects as stressful, difficult, likely to end in failure, and outside of their control. Such people are als likely to state that they have made little progress toward achieving their goals. Apparently, part and parcel of being high on the neuroticism dimension is experiencing difficulty and dissatisfaction in accomplishing one s personal projects (Little, Lecci, & Watkinson, 1992).

Researchers have also been interested in which specific aspects of persona projects are most closely related to overall reports of life satisfaction and happiness. Little (1999) summarizes research suggesting that overall happiness is most related to feeling in control of one' s personal projects, feeling unstressed about those projects, and being optimistic that projects will end successfully . These aspects of Personal Project Analysis (low stress, high control, high optimism) do indeed predict overall levels of happiness and life satisfaction (Palys & Little, 1983). Such finding have led Little to conclude that "bringing our personal projects to successful completion . . . seems to be a pivotal factor in whether we thrive emotionally or lead lives of . . . quiet desperation" (Little, 1999, p. 25).

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