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The Olympic Effect on Your Goals


Recent research shows watching Bradley Wiggins and other Gold Medal winners can help you reach your goals too – even if they're not related to sport.

As part of the Canadian Conference of Positive Psychology I was lucky enough to meet one of my heroes in psychology; Gary Latham. For those of you who don't know him, he was one of two researchers behind basic goal theory – used in pretty much every piece of personal effectiveness training and coaching since the 1960s. Heard of SMART goals? That came from him too.

Not only is Dr. Latham a fabulous speaker, but he hasn't stopped being curious about the theories he demonstrated all that time ago. While his theory hasn't been disproven, he has found some great results in a brand new area – the goals don't have to be conscious to have an effect on performance.

With his team he's used a number of 'supraliminal priming' experiments to show this. This means participants are subjected to a stimulus that they're conscious of, but they're not conscious of the effect it may have on their behaviour.

That sounds a bit technical. Here's an example. Latham took a few hundred call centre workers who were cold calling people to raise money for a particular charity campaign. Everyone was given information about the campaign on a printed piece of paper. Half the group had a background picture to the text of a runner winning a race (an 'achievement related image'). The group with the picture raised significantly more money for the campaign than those who only saw the text. For four days running. And this was even when many of them couldn't remember seeing the picture.

This is seriously amazing stuff and has been replicated in the lab and in situ in offices a number of times. Research is still continuing and the potential applications are huge.

I asked Latham if we should redecorate all our offices with achievement images all over the place and watch performance go up. Possibly, he said. We don't know how quickly people would adapt to the images so they no longer have impact. Wallpaper like that may not be subtle enough either – imagine the reaction from employees when they walk in on Monday morning(!)

We don't know enough yet. But, it might be worth going for that particular goal or challenge whilst surrounded by the amazing achievements of the Olympic athletes. You could end up consciously and subconsciously inspired...

Well being


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