Harnessing Optimism: How Eliciting Goals Improves Performance

24 Pages Posted: 1 Jan 2015

See all articles by Aaron M. Sackett

Aaron M. Sackett

University of St. Thomas

George Wu

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Rebecca J. White

University of Chicago - Center for Decision Research

Alex Markle

Fordham University - Gabelli School of Business

Date Written: December 4, 2014

Abstract

We describe a field experiment in which merely asking people about their goals prior to performance improved performance among experienced but not novice individuals. Whereas most previously-studied goal interventions involve externally-induced goals, our intervention targeted self-set goals. 1,758 marathoners were either asked or not asked to provide a time goal prior to their race. Although our manipulation did not influence the proportion of marathoners who established time goals, experienced marathoners who were asked about their goal in a pre- marathon survey ran 6.75 minutes faster than those who were not asked about their goal. The effect of our goal-asking manipulation on performance was mediated by the ambitiousness of marathoners’ time goals. We suggest that our manipulation increases goal ambitiousness by interrupting the typical decline in optimism as performance approaches.

Keywords: goals, optimism, performance, field study, intervention

Suggested Citation

Sackett, Aaron M. and Wu, George and White, Rebecca J. and Markle, Alex, Harnessing Optimism: How Eliciting Goals Improves Performance (December 4, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2544020 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2544020

Aaron M. Sackett (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas ( email )

2115 Summit Avenue
Mail MCH 316
Saint Paul, MN 55105
United States

George Wu

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Rebecca J. White

University of Chicago - Center for Decision Research ( email )

5807 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Alex Markle

Fordham University - Gabelli School of Business ( email )

113 West 60th Street
Bronx, NY 10458
United States

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