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Follow Up: Be Careful With Those Commitment Devices…

June 21st, 2009 · 6 Comments
Behavioral Econ · Decision Making · Follow Ups

A few days ago I posted about how announcing your goals or intentions can make you less likely to follow through. It seems like people haven’t caught on to this concept, since in doing some marketing research I came upon the following site:

http://www.43things.com

The site’s tagline is “List your goals. Share your progress. Cheer each other on.” I am resisting the urge to figure out how to hack into the site and add “Never get anything done.” to the end of the tagline, since technically I would be doing a public service for 43things.com‘s 1.5 million registered users. Yep, you read that right- I got the number from the Amazon page for the associated book. (I couldn’t even bring myself to make that an affiliate link, for the record, since I wouldn’t want to profit off of such nonsense.) I feel so small by comparison- maybe I should add a section to my site where you state things that you DON’T want to accomplish. :) (In fact, the book lists in its 10 principles for Creating and Conquering a Life List “#7 Make Your List Public.” Sigh.)

I suppose this is just another lesson in not believing everything you read. In fact, this excerpt from the Amazon page should be telling to those who pay attention: “43 Things began with three friends who wanted to start a company but didn’t know what that company should do. The Robots (as they call themselves) made lists of their own goals outside of work. When they began sharing their lists of goals, they discovered that sharing their lists was more exciting than the work they were contemplating. And so 43 Things was born.” Hmph- even the authors themselves provide evidence for the point I am trying to make.

(I am clearly a bad person for thinking the site is really funny on some level…but come on- “Are you a Newness-seeking Self-improving Tree Hugger? Take the 43 Things Personality Quiz and find out …” I don’t think I need to take a quiz to know the answer, thanks.)

Tags: Behavioral Econ · Decision Making · Follow Ups

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob Nease // Jun 21, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    You’re probably already all over this, but for a plausible alternative, check out stickk.com. This is a website that allows you to enter into commitment bonds with monetary teeth (i.e., if you fail to achieve your goals, your hard-earned dough gets forked to someone else).

  • 2 Dan L // Jun 29, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    I think you are being a bit harsh. Although there is research suggesting that announcing your goals is probably not a great idea, you seem to be elevating this idea to an established scientific truth, which I doubt that it is.

    However, I do have to agree that, independent of any body of research, the site sounds stupid. (But that was true for most successful websites in their early stages.)

  • 3 Joefficient // Jul 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    So I couldn’t help myself. I took the quiz. Apparently I’m an Extroverted Healthy Self-Improver. Surprise!

    That’s not why I’m writing though. You mentioned: “maybe I should add a section to my site where you state things that you DON’T want to accomplish.”

    First, I own “methodsofprocrastination.com,” so if you wanna run with the idea, have at it.

    Second, I think you made a very important point without planning to. In Strategy & Policy this summer we talked a lot about successful firms having made difficult choices about what NOT to do, i.e. selecting AND excluding activities. In this age of Information Overload, that’s incredibly important for individuals as well.

    I would love to teach myself to draw, I have like 14 drawing books, I even took the scary “Intro to Drawing” course. What I realized recently is as much as I’d like to be ABLE to draw, it’s not important enough to exclude other activities. (Time being the true limiting factor.) So perhaps now I move “Learn to Draw” over to that “Things I DON’T Want [Need] to Accomplish.

    Finally, I do have some reservations about the conclusions of your original post. There must be more to it than “people who announce their goals are less likely to achieve them.” Or, from the conclusion of the original article: “Other people’s taking notice of one’s identity-relevant intentions apparently engenders a premature sense of completeness regarding the identity goal.”

    For one thing, I’m certain there are cultural effects. All of these studies were done with students in Germany. Could the result be replicated in, say, a more collectivist culture like Japan?

    And what of the students’ courses of study, and what that says about their personalities? All the participants were Psychologists and Jurists — that’s it? Is it possible the observed effect has something to do with the “kind of person” a law student is likely to be?

    I also think the observation periods were a little short, especially when we’re talking about “identity goals.” The longest was 1 week. But when we’re talking about identity goals (“I want to become a better salsa dancer”), it necessarily implies a longer term.

    So am I less likely to achieve my identity goal of becoming a better salsa dancer by telling my roommates of my intentions? I find that hard to believe. If your “reference group” includes a lot of salsa dancers, the effect of articulating and making public your intentions should become even stronger.

    Virtually every piece of ‘self-help’ type literature out there says something to the effect of “write down your goals, review them often, say them out loud, etc.” Many also claim empirical proof there’s a “self-actualization effect” to the practice.

    And as a final thought, what’s the effect of a TEAM of people expressing an identity-type goal, e.g. “We’re going to be the most profitable IT consulting team at Accenture.” (or maybe there’s no such parallel concept “team” identity goals?) In any case, isn’t almost a prerequisite to success that the team be clear about its goals?

    I’m not sure I’m ready to abandon “goal-sharing” as a commitment device just yet…

  • 4 econgirl // Jul 18, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I’ve clearly entered pain in the ass territory and decided that this point needed to be shared with the universe of Amazon shoppers:

    http://www.amazon.com/review/R1Y3ZD8OVPGL2D

  • 5 David // Mar 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    Posting your goals may not provide benefit but making a personal commitment to someone else does. That’s the premise of my site http://www.goalsgonesocial.com. There are also other motivational elements to the website.

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