Hint: Who you choose to share them with can play a big role.
- According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, telling your goals to someone whose opinion you respect will help you accomplish them.
- Sharing your goal with someone lower in status does not increase your commitment to that goal.
- For runners, sharing your goals with someone faster or more experienced than you are can help boost your performance.
Running, for the most part, is all about goal-setting. You sign up for a race, target a finishing time, and train accordingly so that you can (ideally) achieve your goal come race day.
Now, researchers out of Ohio State University and Penn State University have a tactic that may be able to help you stay committed: Tell someone about your goals—but not just any person.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, had two separate parts. For the first part, the researchers wanted to find out how employees of a company share their personal goals. Four hundred eighty-two employees answered a survey with questions about their career goals, the likelihood of making their career goals known, who they would share their goals with, and how committed they really were to achieving their goal.
For the second part of the study, 171 college students had to move a slider on a computer screen to the number 50 as many times as possible within 90 seconds. After counting how many times they were able to do this, they had to set a goal for how many times they could accomplish the task the next time around.
The second time around, participants were split into three groups. One group had to tell their goals to a lab assistant who was dressed in a suit said he was a Ph.D. student and an expert on the topic at hand. This person was deemed someone with a higher status than the participants.
The second group had to tell their goals to the same lab assistant. This time, though, he was dressed casually and said he was a student at the local community college. This person was deemed someone with a lower status than the participants.
The third group didn’t share their goals with anyone.
The overall results from both of these sub-studies indicated that those who shared their goals with someone whose status they respected were more likely to achieve them. In the case of the first part of the study, this person was typically a spouse, close friend, or supervisor. In the case of the second part of study, this person was the lab assistant who was dressed in a suit and was getting his Ph.D.
According to Howard Klein, Ph.D., lead study author and professor of management and human resources at Ohio State, this is because when a goal is shared with someone of a higher status, there’s typically a stronger incentive to achieve the goal.
“It is much harder to lower or abandon a goal that is known by others whose opinion you value than it is a goal known only to yourself,” Klein told Runner’s World. “We found that evaluation apprehension accounted for the increased commitment and performance.”
That means you may be more likely to stick toward hitting your goal because you want the person you respect to view you positively for persisting toward it, and also not to think less of you, like they may if you give up and fail to achieve what you are targeting.
“Sharing a goal is essentially making a public pledge that you intend to attain your goal,” he said.
Interestingly, there was no difference in goal attainment or performance between those who shared their goals with someone they saw as having a lower status and those who didn’t share their goals with anyone at all.
“If you do not value the opinion or judgement of who you tell, it doesn’t matter that you told them,” Klein said. “There was no harm done in terms of seeing the goal through, but also no benefit. Because sharing the goal with someone lower in status does not increase goal commitment, you might as well just as well keep the goal to yourself.”
What does this mean for runners?
While Klein and his colleagues didn’t look at athletes specifically, Klein believes that if runner shared their goals with someone they looked up to, they would be more likely to achieve them.
“The key is to share your goal with someone whose opinions and judgements are important to you and are valued,” Klein said. “So sharing your goals with faster or more experienced athletes would be a good option…because they understand the goal and what it takes to achieve it.”
That being said, sharing your goals with someone of a higher status isn’t the only way to achieve them, according to Klein. Although it’s a fairly easy way to commit to them, the only way you can truly achieve your goals is if you’re truly dedicated to attaining them.
“Goals only work, however, if you are committed to achieving them,” he said. “When you are strongly committed to a goal, you are going to give more of your time, attention, and energy to attaining that goal, and you will be much more persistent and determined to reach it—especially when you encounter challenges or obstacles.”