In 2010, entrepreneur Derek Sivers' TED Talk went viral because of his surprising goal-making advice: Keep your goals to yourself. Citing psychology research, Sivers posited that when you share your goals with others, it makes you feel "less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary" to achieve them, he said.
But new research out of The Ohio State University could turn this frequently quoted wisdom on its head, finding that people tend to be more committed to their goals after they share them with someone who they see as "higher status," or whose opinions they respect.
"If you don't care about the opinion of whom you tell, it doesn't affect your desire to persist — which is really what goal commitment is all about," Howard Klein, lead author and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, said in a press release. "You want to be dedicated and unwilling to give up on your goal, which is more likely when you share that goal with someone you look up to."
For one part of the study, which is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 171 undergrad college students were given a basic computer task that involved moving a slider across a screen as many times as they could over a period of time. From there, they set a goal number of times they would complete the task on the next round. Researchers then sent a "lab assistant" to review their work, who either revealed they were a doctoral-level student, or said they were a student employee at a community college.
When the study participants shared their target goal with the so-called doctoral-level student, they were more likely to reach their goal. On the flip side, those who relayed their goals to the individual who they believed was a community college student did not perform better. Similarly, the group who didn't tell their goal to anyone also didn't see any improvement.
In another experiment, 292 college students set ambitious goals for their grades at the beginning of the semester and shared them. Again, those who divulged their goals with someone of higher status tended to be more committed to their grades by the end of the semester.
Researchers say that sharing your goal with a higher-up does more than keep you accountable, it also makes you more motivated, simply because you care what this person thinks of you. For example, telling a mentor or manager about your hopes to get promoted could light a fire under you more than, say, a peer or friend.
Of course, this advice depends on the goal and the person. While "evaluation apprehension," the term researchers use to describe anxiety caused by being supervised, could make you more driven, it could also have a negative effect on your ability or willingness to crush a goal.
"We didn't find it in this study, but it is possible that you may create so much anxiety in trying to impress someone that it could interfere with your performance," Klein said in the release.