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We’ve all been there.

You’re outside going for a quick 3 mile run and suddenly someone passes you and you start using their pace as yours. You keep following them, and the next thing you know, you’ve gone 10 miles further and still have to turn around to get back home. This happens to me more than I care to admit!

Though you set out with a different goal in mind, you started working harder when you gained an audience.

This is exactly why I built Spartan as a community, team-focused race and transformation company. An audience spurs collaboration and momentum. It’s why I surround myself with a team of experts to multiply our creativity 10x, and it’s why I encourage every racer to don the bandana with people who will push them.

I work hard on my own. But I work harder with a team. We all do, thanks to one driving concept:

The Hawthorne Effect.

What is the Hawthorne Effect?

It’s the phenomenon when we alter our behavior because we know we’re being watched. Ultimately, the Hawthorne Effect is the reason we thrive in groups.

The term was first described in the 1950s by researcher Henry A. Landsberger after he analyzed experiments conducted in the 1920s and 30s. The “Hawthorne Effect” is taken from the location where these experiments took place, Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works.

In these early experiments, researchers adjusted working conditions (amount of light, length of workday, etc.) to see if productivity levels would increase. What happened? They accidentally discovered that workers were only improving their productivity when supervisors watched them more diligently.

It had nothing to do with candlelight vs natural light. Or a 4-hour workday vs a 10-hour workday. What forced workers to put in more effort was an audience.

Humans want to work harder when we feel others are watching our every move.

The Science Behind the Hawthorne Effect

As the CEO of Spartan, I’ve seen it first-hand. From in-office brainstorms to employee outings, my team is constantly working to out-perform their past selves—because they know I expect more from them today than I did yesterday.

I’m not the only one, though. The Hawthorne Effect appears in every industry involving group activity.

In a study where participants played a console video game by themselves and then in front of an audience, they performed as much as 20% better.

A medical staff increased hand-washing compliance by 55% after they knew they were being watched.

Funny enough, even a perceived spectator does the job. Jefferson University conducted a study by hanging posters of human eyes in the cafeteria to determine whether or not students were more likely to throw away their trash after eating. Researchers found these posters of human eyes alone caused twice the amount of students to clean up after themselves.

This isn’t surprising. It’s just science. Neuroscientists conclude neural processing of social judgments gives rise to the enhanced motivational state that results in social facilitation of incentive-based performance. In plain English, an audience incentivizes our brains to work better.

I don’t need to have 24/7 surveillance over my team to trust they’re working their hardest, but group accountability doesn’t hurt.

It’s the reason Spartan races work so well. I purposely chose not to make them solitary. Racers push themselves and mimic the drive of racers around them because they know they are not only being supported by fellow racers but also being observed by spectators.

Use the Hawthorne Effect to Your Advantage

You don’t have to be knuckle-deep in dirt at a Spartan race to make the Hawthorne Effect work for you. Small and big wins are easier with an audience. Here are a few ways to use the Hawthorne Effect to your advantage:

Join a Group Fitness Activity – Try your hand at a group-focused workout regimen like SoulCycle, Orangetheory Fitness, a spin class, or a Spartan race.

Cut Back on Remote Work – Cut back on the amount of time you sit on your couch “working” and spend it in the office instead. You have an entire team of unique minds and original thought that’s designed for collaboration.

Try Your Hand at Public Speaking – If you have a big meeting coming up or an idea that you want to workshop, try presenting it to a peer group outside of work first. Practicing in front of a crowd will support your efforts when presenting the real thing.

Act Like Your Boss is Watching – Pretend like your boss is reading every employee message and hovering over every meeting. I promise you’ll act accordingly. Sending an important email to a client at work? Pretend the CEO of your company is CC’d, and your tone and attention to detail will change instantly.

Make Your Goals Public – Let others hold you responsible. Say your goals out loud to close friends, family members, or even strangers online. Telling people about your goals will hold you accountable, because who wants to disappoint the entire Facebook audience? Once you have people watching, you make it happen.

We all need that extra push now and then. If self-motivation is dragging yourself out of bed, Spartan motivation is waking up to meet your crew outside for a morning run. Your future self watching will thank you.


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Aroo!