Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Should you share your wellness goals?

You've probably read about how the people in your social circle influence your health and weight. The concept was explored in one of my favorite books, Connected, and I recently read this post -- How Friends Can Make You Fat (Study: Shared social behaviors, not shared social norms, are more likely to spread obesity among friends.) If you believe the underlying concepts -- and I do -- it stands to reason that sharing a wellness goal and rallying some support from your circle of family and friends would increase your chances of reaching your goal. It's this community concept that is the underpinning for my strong belief in the value of workplace wellness programs. 

Terry Harris, our Learning Facilitator at ASHA, recently developed and led a goal setting workshop to help the staff members competing for our trip to St. Thomas hone their goals. While putting together the workshop, Terry ran across some research that suggests announcing your plans takes away some of your motivation to accomplish your goal. Derek Sivers articulates this clearly in his TED Talk. 

Evidently some people feel that sharing our plans can make us feel that we've already done the hard work and give us a sense of completeness, fulfillment and achievement. These feelings can drive our motivation down. 

In another of my favorite books, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath talk about the importance of "shrinking the change." After describing two studies, they conclude that "One way to motivate action, is to make people feel as though they're already closer to the finish line than they might have thought." If this is true, no harm should come from people thinking they're on their way to making a desired change. It's always interesting to look at things from another perspective, however. What has your experience been? 


Bob Merberg said...

I've always felt that declaring your goals is a powerful tool to bolster commitment and transform a goal from an idea to reality.

Derek Sivers' talk gives me pause. I'm not familiar with the research he is citing, and I'll have to check it out. Anecdotally, I have observed benefit in sharing goals. But I've also known people who appeared to spend all their psychic energy on talking about a goal that would appear to have been better spent working on it.

I wonder if it's possible that the risks or benefits of announcing your goals may depend on 1) the type of goal (just like the risk and benefits of incentives, which may work for tedious tasks but undermine achievement of meaningful, long-term goals) and 2) what exactly the goal-setter is saying when they share their goal.

This latter point -- what are they saying -- may be key. I am not an expert in Motivational Interviewing -- the system most wellness coaching programs claim to rely upon -- but I understand that a key technique is to get the client talking *positively* about their goal and the means to achieve it. On the other hand, if someone is saying, "My goal is to run a 10K but I doubt I can do it,"... well, obviously, they are reinforcing low self-efficacy and talking themselves out of achievement.

Thanks for the thought-provoking and informative post, Janet.

Bob Merberg said...

I don't mean to overstay my welcome, but... ;)

I just came across this work by Richard Wiseman (link below). He says he did a study in which people who declared their New Years Resolution to friends and family were more likely to stick with it compared to people who kept it to themselves. Seems he's reproduced this a few times, though I can't vouch for the validity of his work...


Tamara Melton said...

Thanks for directing me to this post, Janet. I am thinking of the hundreds of one-one-one nutrition counseling sessions that I have conducted. I was definitely a student of MI, which has now given way to coaching, as that was all the rage when I was in undergrad and graduate school. Like Bob, I've always felt identifying a goal is critical to improving the likelihood of reaching that goal.

I haven't heard or read of the research that Mr. Sivers was referring to, so that will be a nice read this week. However, I think what he said towards the end of the clip is the key: Stating a goal in the form of the steps to reach the goal is increasing the likelihood of achieving the goal. It goes back to the SMART principle, and focusing on factors that one can control are more likely to lead one to reaching his goal. So, if someone wants to lose weight, plan to focus on the goals of walking 30 min, 3 times per week, brown-bagging a healthy, balanced lunch 2 days per week, and choosing to drink a cup of lightly sweetened hot tea 3 times per week in place of a favorite high-calorie late night treat.

I think those types of goals that should be shared with family and friends. I'm curious to look at Mr. Silver's research (and Bob's link above). Thanks for this sharing this information and sparking some thoughts on the subject of goal setting, Janet. This is one of my favorite elements of working with clients on all levels, and even in working with myself in my personal and professional life!

Nicholas Tolson said...

I haven't watched the video yet (thanks for the heads up on it, though), but I subscribe (once again) to Robert Cialdini's research on this, which shows that stating a goal, even if only to oneself, makes you more likely to carry through with it. I also refer to my own personal experience on this.

I do like the stating a goal in the form of steps concept Tamara mentions. It reminds me of an article I read (sorry, can't remember where) that said the way to be more productive was to concentrate on the very first step of a particular task. So, if the to-do item before was "take clothes to the dry-cleaner" the real first to-do item would be "collect clothes that need to be dry-cleaned" and then possibly, "put clothes to be dry-cleaned in car."

Jeanine Broderick said...

I am going to weigh in on 'sharing goals'.

I think it is highly dependent upon personality type whether sharing the goal is productive or not.

For those who look outside theirselves for motivation it may be very beneficial. For those who are internally motivated maybe not.

For myself having someone looking over my shoulder, asking about progress, etc. tends to sidetrack me from the intense focus I garner internally when I set a goal. I do not want to discuss it with others, I don't want their feedback on my progress toward the specific goal, etc. If they compliment my progress that is fine but greater feedback (taking score on my progress, for example) tends to de-motivate me.

Many years ago when I became a non-smoker I had attempted many times to quit smoking using a variety of programs. None came close to working.

When I became a non-smoker I told no one what I was going to do until the day I became a non-smoker.

I noticed back then that the more I was encouraged to quit the more resistant to quitting I became.

Perhaps I am just a contrarian. I don't know but for me I reach my goals in all areas better when they are private. I especially like that those who would be negative about my chances of suceeding are not able to weigh in when they do not know the goal(s). Perhaps the fact that I set high goals is a factor to be considered so fewer people would believe they are achievable? (Note: I have achieved amazing things this way.)

jmcnichol said...

Thanks for all of your comments. It does make sense that there is no "one size fits all" answer, but I'm continuing to look at the articles and individuals you referenced and think about this issue.