My former student Luke Bornheimer (now working at Google) pointed me to some fascinating new research on goal setting. New York University psychologist Peter Gollwitzer and his coauthors have studied the impact of announcing your goals publicly. Conventional wisdom suggests that such public pronouncements propel you to work harder to achieving your objectives. However, in an experiment with law school students, the scholars found that those who maintained their goals privately tended to exert more effort than those who disclosed their goals publicly.
The authors then conducted a second experiment. They were shown photographs of Supreme Court justices. The photographs differed in size. The experimenters asked the students: "How much do you feel like a jurist right now?" Those who publicly announced their goals picked larger photos. Psychologists previously have shown that selecting larger pictures demonstrates a connection to one's sense of identity and wholeness.
According to the article, the second experiment suggests that, "Simply stating a strategy for becoming a good lawyer made them feel like they were real lawyers, and this inflated self-image paradoxically made them less hard working. They had become legends in their own minds, and legends don't have to get down and dirty."
I'm fascinated with the result, and I look forward to seeing more research in this domain. Naturally, the results have implications for business leaders as well as students, and they even have relevance for our personal lives.