The Construct of Action—State Orientation

ASO refers to a person’s ability to initiate and maintain intentions, including making timely decisions, avoiding procrastination, and handling multiple competing demands (Diefendorff et al., 2000; Jostmann & Koole, 2010). Research on ASO demonstrates that action-oriented individuals shield themselves better than state-oriented individuals against the psychological costs of high demands in cognition, affect, and behavior (Jostmann & Koole, 2010). Individuals with strong action orientation are able to devote their cognitive resources to present tasks, which enable them to move toward goals. Meanwhile, those who are state-oriented tend to have ruminative thoughts about alternative goals or affective states, reducing their cognitive resources available to work toward goals (Diefendorff et al., 2000).

ASO is a multidimensional construct that consists of three components: hesitation, preoccupation, and volatility (Diefendorff et al., 2000; Kuhl & Beckman, 1994). Each of these components of ASO relates to different facets of the goal-striving process (Jostmann & Koole, 2010). First, the hesitation dimension, with opposing poles of hesitation (state-oriented) versus initiative (action-oriented), refers to the degree of difficulty that individuals have initiating goal-directed activity. While action-oriented people are able to easily initiate work on tasks, state-oriented people lack the behavioral capacity to initiate action (Diefendorff et al., 2000; Kuhl, 1994). For example, a person with high hesitation might be expected to put off the beginning of an undesirable work task, which contributes to later difficulties when this procrastination results in insufficient time to finish his or her work.

Second, the preoccupation dimension contains opposing poles of preoccupation (state-oriented) versus disengagement (action-oriented). Individuals who are action-oriented on this dimension are able to disengage from thoughts of alternative goals or undesirable events that may interfere with progress on the task at hand (Diefendorff et al., 2000; Kuhl, 1994). In contrast, those who are state-oriented on this dimension have impaired effectiveness due to their prolonged rumination regarding real or simulated, unpleasant experiences (Diefendorff et al., 2000). For example, a person high in preoccupation might ruminate extensively on setbacks or mistakes experienced earlier in the goal-striving process, rather than focusing on the demands of the present and future that can still be controlled.

Finally, the volatility dimension contains opposing poles of volatility (state-oriented) versus persistence (action-oriented). This dimension refers to the ability to stay in the action-oriented mode when necessary. Individuals who are more action-oriented on this dimension effectively maintain focus on an intention until the task is complete, while state- oriented individuals are easily distracted and pulled off-task (Diefendorff et al., 2000; Kuhl, 1994). For example, a person high in volatility is likely to flit between a wide set of goals that are all halfway accomplished rather than picking a single goal and persevering with focus until it is finished.

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