Announcing Plans May Kill Motivation, Productivity

Does talking about plans undermine productivity? Research says yes, sometimes — that when you talk about intentions you run the risk of creating a “premature sense of completeness.”

Talking about goals instead of keeping them private may derail your drive to pursue them.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Mike Licht,

Are you inadvertently undermining your productivity by talking about your plans?

Research says yes, sometimes — that when you talk about intentions you could be taking the fizz out your motivation to move forward. Why? Because voicing plans runs the risk of creating a “premature sense of completeness.”

That term comes from Peter Gollwitzer, a psychology professor at New York University who studies the ways that plans affect behavior.

In experiments to test how making resolutions affects behavior, Gollwitzer “found that law students who had made a public commitment to working harder (by discussing their commitment to hard work with a psychologist) actually quit working earlier than students who had kept their commitments private,” according to an article in the Boston Globe about new year’s resolutions.

Notes the Globe: “Conventional wisdom, of course, would have predicted the opposite result: By making a resolution and telling other people about it, we think we’re putting pressure on ourselves to follow through.” Instead, sharing our goals too often lets us simply “congratulate ourselves just for making the resolution.”

“When other people take notice of one’s identity-relevant behavioral intentions, one’s performance of the intended behaviors is compromised,” wrote Gollwitzer, Paschal Sheeran, Verena Michalski and Andrea E. Seifert in the 2009 Psychological Science article “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?” [PDF]. Further research is needed, they said, into “how individuals might try to escape this effect.” They suggest the possibilities that individuals might spell out specific frequency or plans for enacting the goal, and ways that the audience can check on follow through. They also suggest research into the role of having performance acknowledged.