Opening up about your goals with someone can help you achieve them—but who you tell is important.

By Jennifer Aldrich
September 03, 2019

Thanks to social media, we're all well aware of nearly every little detail of our friends' lives—including their goals. Although you might keep scrolling past those #MotivationMonday posts on Instagram, it turns out those uploads can actually help you hit your target. A new study concludes that people were more determined to achieve their goals when they disclosed their dreams to a person they deemed more important than themselves.

What’s especially fascinating about this report is that it actually contradicts a popular 2009 study where the authors found that reporting your goals hinders performance. "Contrary to what you may have heard, in most cases, you get more benefit from sharing your goal than if you don’t—as long as you share it with someone whose opinion you value," Howard Klein, lead author of the new study, told Ohio State News

Related: 10 Garden Goals to Set This Year

Image courtesy of Getty.

The study, published in the online version of Journal of Applied Psychology, was comprised of four experiments. The first one discovered that working professionals share their career goals often and they were more likely to succeed when they chose to declare them "with someone higher in status."

The other three assessments focused on students. In one test, a group of 171 college students were tasked with moving a slider on a computer screen to the number 50 as many times as possible within a specified amount of time. They did this once, and then were asked to do it again—but before the second attempt, they wrote down a goal. Then, they were evaluated by a lab assistant. One version of the assistant donned a suit and told the students he was a doctoral-level student and an "expert" on the day’s study topic. The students said they saw him as someone higher in status. The other assistant was dressed in "casual clothing" and noted he was in community college, and the students decided he was lower in status. Although there were two assistants, each student only saw one of them. There was also a third group of people who didn’t speak to either assistant.

The results concluded that the participants who told their goals to the "higher status" assistant were more determined to complete them than those who spoke with the "lower status" assistant. What’s even more interesting? The students who spoke with the former assistant actually did do better, and all students who revealed their goals to either assistant did better than those who didn't disclose them at all. "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," Klein says. “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.”

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Another assessment of the group focused on "evaluation apprehension," which is "how much they cared about what the lab assistant thought of them." Those who cared more about what the assistant thought of them were more dedicated to achieving their goals. However, there might be an issue with this idea. "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 explains.

The last trial asked 292 college students to make "challenging grade goals" at the beginning of the semester and tell them to an individual. And yes, you guessed it, the students who shared their goals with "higher-status" people were most likely to accomplish them. 

So for the next goal you set, make sure you tell a person in your life about it—but Klein says to keep one thing in mind to help you succeed. "The important thing is that you need to care about the opinion of who you are telling."

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