To Say or Not to Say2 min read

Should you talk about your goals, or should you keep them secret?

Some authors recommend telling the world about your goal: talking about it on social media, and telling your friends and family what you are trying to achieve. The rationale is that this is a form of public accountability: you know that you will be asked about it in the future, and it could feel a bit uncomfortable to say you have given up, or not made any progress. 

While this can work, there are also strong reasons to keep your plans secret. Derek Sivers, in his TED Talk “Keep Your Goals to Yourself”, argues that telling people about your goal makes you less likely to achieve it. Why? Because it gives you a premature sense of completeness. There is good science to back this up.

When you have a goal, there are a number of difficult steps that you need to take until you achieve it; in fact, there is a whole process ahead of you. Normally, you won’t be able to enjoy that final psychological satisfaction that you are seeking until you actually accomplish your goal. But when you share it with others, or visualize yourself already having that goal achieved, part of your brain already produces that sense of satisfaction. This, in turn, drains your fuel for moving forward. 

Your brain seeks satisfaction. If it gets that by distracting itself with instant gratification, or by imagining the end state, there will be little motivation left to fuel you to go through the pains of the journey. Why should you work hard to have something you already have?

So, what is the right approach? Sivers suggests sharing the pain of the process (“I will train hard and run five times a week”), rather than the excitement of the end result (“I will run a marathon”). This seems to strike a balance between the two approaches, allowing you to benefit both from public accountability and from delaying the gratification of social acknowledgement.

Another way to think about it is this: keep your goals secret and get accountability via a single accountability partner or a coach. This is how I personally do it. I rarely (if ever) mention my goals in public; rather, I make strong resolutions to myself, work in silence, and talk about it when I have achieved it. This works for me; but you may need a different strategy. 

Now that you know the pros and cons of each, you are better equipped to choose what’s best for you.

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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