According to research published in the The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, seeing someone else reach a goal is demotiving.
The goal examined in the research was completing anagrams. One group, while completing another computer task, saw a video of hands trying but not managing to complete anagrams. Another group under the same circumstances saw the hands succeed in completing the anagrams. Then, when presented with anagrams to complete themselves, participants who saw hands unable to complete the task did better than those who saw the hands complete the task.
The researchers conclude that seeing someone else succeed gives you the vicarious sense of having reached a goal and so you don’t try as hard.
And, the researchers add:
Based on these ﬁndings, we believe it is likely that vicarious goal satiation would occur more strongly within close relationships or for observers who identify more strongly with the actor. This leads to an interesting prediction: observing close others’ successes could be particularly de-motivating.
This is a head-scratcher for me.
I’ve been trying to apply this concept to my life and experiences and can’t quite make it fit. Maybe I’m too competitive? When I see someone succeed—especially someone close to me and especially at a task I would like to succeed in—I tend to push myself harder.
Of course, I don’t actually see friends type The End when they finish writing a book. All I know is that they finish writing them and that makes me redouble my efforts to finish one too.
Maybe if I watched someone write an entire book (and what an exciting time that would be) I would experience vicarious goal satiation and lose interest in writing my own. Although more likely I’d think, “Wow, that’s a hellish way to spend a couple of years,” and get a job. (Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. ~Gene Fowler)
(Note to indignant writers: I know writing is a job. It’s what I do. I’m being facetious.)
I can be demotivated in my writing by reading something really, really excellent. I get all hopeless and Eeyore about my own talent. And bad writing isn’t motivating. Being better than terrible is too easy. I get most fired up by mediocre writing, which gives me a just-right goal to shoot for. I want to be better than mediocre.
But that’s not the same thing, is it? That’s social comparison.
I have heard that you should talk too much about a book you’re writing because that will cause the urgency to wane.
Then there’s this: Yesterday after many emails back and forth with a friend about exercise DVDs (I also review those for fun and profit), my friend realized that we’d talked about it so much she’d forgotten to exercise. So maybe that’s related, too.
I just don’t know. What do you think?