An experiment in measurement
Back in the 1930s a famous Australian Scientist, Elton Mayo wanted to find out how to improve productivity in the workplace. At the same time, the bosses at the Western Electric Company thought that they could make more profit if their employees were more productive, so they invited him to experiment with one of their factories in Chicago that made telephones.
Elton knew that if he was going to demonstrate an improvement in productivity, he would need to separate the factory employees into two groups. He would make one group continue to work exactly as they had been doing (these would be the control group). The other group would be made to work in a slightly different way (the experimental group).
Elton had a list of ideas up his sleeve which he would try out on the experimental group, then he would compare the productivity of the two different groups. If the experimental group were more productive and made more telephones than the control group, then his work would be a success and those bosses would be very happy and probably give him lots of money.
For his first experiment, he made the experimental group work in a space that was much brighter than they were used to by increasing the lighting on the factory floor. When he measured their productivity he found that it had increased. He congratulated himself for being so smart!
Elton then wanted to check that the lighting levels definitely did make a difference, so he changed the lighting back to how it was before. He found that productivity was still higher in the experimental group compared to the control group. This was somewhat unexpected.
Then he made the lighting much dimmer and once again found that the experimental group were outperforming the control group. Remember, the control group’s lighting levels, and productivity had not changed this whole time.
Hmmm… perhaps he was not as smart as he once thought. It seemed that whatever he did to the experimental group increased the employees’ productivity. There was no rhyme or reason to it!
After some head scratching Elton had a brainwave.
“What I change does not matter. Merely observing and measuring the employees’ work increases their productivity!”
In psychology, this phenomenon is now known as the “Observer Effect”. In other words, people tend to change their behaviour and act more desirably when they are being watched.
It turns out that you can also use this exact same Observer Effect to help you achieve your goals whether you are being watched by others, or even if you watch yourself.
Here are two ways that you can use the Observers Effect in the pursuit of your goals.
Watch yourself to success
1. Work in public
Have you ever found that you studied better in the library, or a coffee shop, then when you were at home on your own?
Have you ever eaten less than you really wanted to, simply because you were out with other people?
Have you ever pushed yourself harder in an exercise class than you did during a solo workout?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you have experienced the Observer Effect first hand, and you know that merely being around other people will help you to perform better. Helpfully for you, these people don’t even have to know your goals, nor do they need to have a vested interest in your success.
Sounds simple right? It is! So manipulate it to your benefit.
Action Step — work on your goal when you are around other people. Even if you are pretty motivated and self-sufficient, you will be surprised at what more you could accomplish, and how much further you can push yourself when other people are “watching”.
2. Measure yourself
There is no point in setting a goal if you do not measure your progress frequently, and by frequently I mean daily or weekly.
Often there is a big time lag between any single action you take and achieving your goal. One workout will not give you washboard abs. One stretch class will not result in you dropping down and doing the splits. One work session will not ensure you are a successful businesswoman.
It is the cumulative effect of many actions over time that will lead to your success. Sometimes you will take a step forward, and sometimes you will take two step backwards. The most important thing is that you keep trying, and the general trend is one of improvement.
You will not know your general trend, however, if you do not measure it!
- If your goal is to lose weight, you need to step on the scales frequently.
- If your goal is to have a successful business, you need to track your profit frequently.
- If your goal is to get a new job, you need to track the number of applications you make and the interviews you receive frequently.
There is almost nothing you cannot measure! Even something seemingly subjective such as flexibility can be measured and monitored to the nearest degree using a protractor app and a photo.
Daily tracking of my weight is the one method that has kept me within a narrow weight range for the last 5 years. As soon as I start seeing new, previously uncharted numbers on those scales, I change my behaviour! I decline dessert, eat more food at home and increase my exercise. If I did not literally watch my weight, I would only know that my weight was creeping up when I had to buy new clothes which would be too late!
Action Step — measure your progress daily or weekly. Once you have got into the habit of it, make sure that the fruits of your measurement are visible. Track your numbers on a document, a spreadsheet (go on, graph it!), the front page of your diary, your fridge, a pinboard, white board paper (you can “stick” it on any wall), or even social media. The more visible the better.
As soon as you notice a trend of deterioration, up your efforts to get back to good! All this monitoring may seem like extra effort, but think of it as an early warning indicator telling you that you are going off track and you need to turn it around pronto! You do not want to wait until your goal date to find out that you are going to fail.