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Why You Should Keep Your Goals to Yourself

Often when we resolve to do something or achieve a goal, we are naturally prone to telling our family and friends about it.  There is, however, much evidence which advises to do the contrary.  That is – that we should in fact keep our goals to ourselves, at least around people who are absolutely not concerned.

Whereas this may seem counterintuitive, let me list some reasons why keeping your mouth shut might be a good idea if you want to stay motivated.  And no, having your friends hold you up to your goals turns out not to be very effective.

Can you live with failure?

Failing to achieve a goal which everyone expects you to achieve may have bad effects on your image.  Depending on the type of your goal, you might be remembered as the one who doesn’t stick to their word or resolution.  You know very well that talking about weight loss will help but by stretching your wrinkles.  But if you keep talking about it for too long without actually doing something about your weight, you will attract less and less attention and credibility.

If you want to maintain your face, just talk about the little successes which you have achieved on the way.  Have you been to the gym three times last week?  Tell your friends about that, don’t tell them that you’re planning to go five times next week.  This will bring you satisfaction from what you have already done and will motivate you for the next round.

Apart from risking your own failure, you are also risking that someone will try to beat you to your goal.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing in the weight loss category, starting up a promising business might be a worse scenario.  Don’t let others steal your thunder or your customers by beating you at your own game.

This is not to say that you should not network or seek advice.  Just try to talk about your achievements in vague terms – that will still leave a lot of space for you to brag once you have finished.  You will keep people interested and you will keep yourself interested in completing your tasks, anxious to do the unveiling.

What’s best is that if you indeed succeed, you will be able to enjoy your accomplishment fully with everybody else and nobody will have any reason to doubt your skills.

Why make your goals painful

Both Dan Ariely and Derek Sivers are ready to explain to you that telling anybody about your goals is simply a bad idea.  There has been extensive research done in this field indicating that telling others about your goals has a strong psychological effect on the one who speaks.

By sharing with others what you want to do, you are effectively living through the experience of having done it and you probably feel like your audience’s reaction to your announcement is the same as if you had already finished. Therefore, you are less motivated to complete the task and, well, experience the same reaction again.  This makes you a little more laid back and not even aware of your newly acquired comfort.

That is why, in a single experiment, a group of randomly selected people was asked to pick a task that they would like to accomplish.  Everyone in the experiment resolved to undertake a specific task, but only one half of the subjects was asked to share their goal with others in the room.  Everybody started working on their tasks under the supervision of the researchers.

On average, those who shared their goals with others gave up working (in favour of resting) much earlier, not pushing as hard to finish what they resolved. What is even more concerning, though, is the fact that the “sharers” also felt much better about the status of their task.  They felt that they were much closer to accomplishing it and were much less likely to resume working on it anytime soon.

To partially offset the negative effects of telling others, there is a simple strategy.  (Remember that it is always best not to tell, but just in case you were forced to…)  Derek Sivers suggests that if you must tell someone about your goal, try to include how much work there is still involved in achieving it successfully.

I suggest that you mention having to meet all these people and exert all this effort, and, most importantly, that it is not a done deal by any means. Only if you keep in mind the possibility of failure and the fact that your success is not for granted can you stay focused on the task at hand.  Keep yourself on your toes and make sure others know about it.

Epic fail

That is why I am often surprised by hearing that many Central European countries have this custom of celebrating their high-school graduation in the winter, half a year before they actually take their final exams.  Considering all we have learned right now, it seems that moving the celebration until after the exams might have extensive (positive) implications on the performance of the students during their last semester.


Remember, while we are indeed social animals, we have to make sure that we are using our social features and qualities in the right way to propel us, to fuel our motivation, and to help us achieve our goals more easily.  If you must talk about your goals, talk only about that which you have really achieved so far.  Try not to mention what you are going to do and, if you must discuss the
future, mention all the painful details, kilometres and meetings which lie between you and your goal.

It is OK to tell your calendar what you need to do, but it may be counter-productive to show your calendar to others.

Content prepared by Julie Kinnear, an experienced Toronto real estate agent and an advocate of all things green.