This time, it’s going to work. You’re going to achieve your goal. You announce your plan on Facebook. People know what you’re doing. Failure means humiliation. A couple months later, someone asks how your goal is coming along. You mumble an excuse for why you didn’t make it. Other tasks took priority.You haven’t been feeling so good lately. You just plumb forgot about it.
But you know the truth. You lost motivation. What looked like a 400 meter sprint turned out to be a 10 mile marathon. It’s just not fun anymore. You justify quitting and announce a new goal.This time, it’s going to work. But probably not.
Announcing goals is exciting. It feels like you’ve just achieved something big. You talk about what you’re going to do and everyone pats you on the back. The grander the scheme that you dream up, the more excited people get for you. Sharing your goals with the world gives you that positive feedback and validation that you so desperately crave. And that’s exactly why you don’t want to share them.
Sharing Goals Creates an Illusion of Progress
In 2009, NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer conducted four tests in a German university. The purpose: find out how likely we are to achieve our goals after we share them.
Gollwitzer set up four different tests, consisting of 163 psychology and law students. After each person wrote down a personal goal, half of them were to announce their commitment to the room, while the other half did not. All the students were given 45 minutes to work on their goals, and were told that they could stop at any time. The students that didn’t announce their goals worked the entire 45 minutes on average, and felt that they had a long way to go before their goal would be achieved. The students who did announce their goals only worked 33 minutes on average, and felt they were much closer to achieving their goals.
Is it possible that the latter group worked harder than the other? Could this be why they feel closer to their goal? Sure, that’s possible. But it’s also obvious that this group had better things to do. This group assumed it was a done deal, while the former group took on a more realistic viewpoint. Who would you bet on?
Sharing Goals Steals Your Motivation
Whether you’re looking to become a lawyer or a better parent, your brain looks for indicators that you’re moving along. According to Gollwitzer, these indicators are calledidentity symbols.
From research article, ‘When Intentions Go Public’:
Positive self-descriptions made in public qualify as powerful identity symbols (Gollwitzer, Wicklund, & Hilton, 1982), and having an audience for behavioral intentions that specify the successful performance of an identity-relevant activity should have the same symbolic impact.
Saying you’re going to do something creates the same identity symbols you’d get from actually doing it. If you say you’re going to become a great lawyer, get the body of a fitness model, or become the world’s greatest Candy Crush player, your brain already feels like you’re there. You’re going to sink back into your chair, pleased with your progress. You think about all the good things that are coming your way. Facebook just stole your motivation and you don’t even realize it.
How are you supposed to get motivated if you can’t talk about your goals?
What does work better is a hybrid approach that combines positive thinking with “realism.” Here’s how it works. Think of a wish. For a few minutes, imagine the wish coming true, letting your mind wander and drift where it will. Then shift gears. Spend a few more minutes imagining the obstacles that stand in the way of realizing your wish.
This simple process, which my colleagues and I call “mental contrasting,” has produced powerful results in laboratory experiments.
A compliment to mental contrasting is an accountability group. These are groups of people who are on the same journey as you. They understand the difficulties you face, and share in the joys of small victories. Make sure to join an accountability group that is specific to your goals. If weight loss is your goal, join a group of people who are all trying to lose weight.
Another option is to tempt your friends with the almighty dollar. You may have heard the story of the Las Vegas pit boss who offered a cash reward to anyone who caught him smoking. You don’t have to offer thousands of dollars; even $25 per workout missed is enough to tempt your friends and keep you in check.
In September 2010, Derek Sivers presented a TED Talk called, “Keep your goals to yourself”. Although this video racked up 3.5 million views (and no doubt prompted many discussions), you still see many people announcing their goals on social media. Have you ever noticed that those people never seem to reach their goal? Are you one of them?
Do yourself a favor, and save the celebration for once you’ve made it.
Featured photo credit: Nancy G via flickr.com