April 5, 2024

Motivation and goal setting: Dan Ariely (2008)

by Mateusz Wiącek

Dan Ariely is an Israeli-American behavioral economist known for his research on irrational behavior and decision-making.  Ariely published the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions in 2008. The book explores the various ways in which individuals consistently make irrational choices and decisions. 

In the context of motivation and goal-setting, his main findings are:

  • Set challenging goals: setting high, challenging goals can lead to increased effort,stronger  motivation, and ultimately better performance
  • Break down goals: break down larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks. This approach makes the overall goal seem less overwhelming and allows for a sense of progress with each completed sub-goal.
  • Understanding motivations: personal motivations are very important. Identifying the reasons behind a goal can help individuals stay focused and committed, especially when faced with challenges or setbacks. 
  • Flexible planning: acknowledge that unexpected events and obstacles can and will arise so you have to maintain flexibility in planning. Being adaptable allows for adjustments without completely abandoning the pursuit of a goal.

For language learning this means that in order to be successful you need to be intrinsically motivated, and put effort into planning and goal settings.

Ariely’s findings challenged the conventional wisdom that setting “realistic” or easy goals is the most effective approach. This was adopted as a core part of Google’s management and goal-setting practices, and it was formalized under “Objectives and Key Results” (OKRs).

“Aim for the moon; even if you miss you will end among the stars”.

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