Keep goals to yourself or tell everyone?

If you read around, there are two approaches to accomplishing goals that seem equally obvious but contradict one another. Tell people and don’t.

Advocates of broadcasting goals say that you’re more likely to accomplish them since you have some accountability and they can help you along with your goals.

The opposing party says it gives a premature sense of accomplishment and makes you less likely to even get started on your goal.

I’ll look at them one by one.

Tell the world

The main selling point of this tactic is that it creates accountability. Telling your friends and family about your goals means that other people will know if you fail or succeed. This might put a helpful amount of pressure onto your shoulders which helps getting through the initial moments where the first few steps are difficult.

However, all the accountability in the world is useless when it offers no consequences. If your friend simply invites you out to dinner after you’ve said you’re going to the gym and dieting, you’re not going to make much progress. Some friends might not want to push too hard since they think it’d put the friendship in jeopardy. Which makes perfect sense if boundaries aren’t made clear.

Sites like beeminder and HabitRPG make it easier to have accountability with consequences. If you’re prone to just ignoring consequences or consequential situations completely, these might be unhelpful.

Keep it to yourself

This school of thought veers slightly from intuition and says you should keep your goals to yourself. Broadcasting them gives you feelings of accomplishment and makes you less likely to start working on it.

Peter Gollwitzer completed a study and found, in a four different tests of 63 people, those who announced their intention to complete task were less likely to do so.

All were asked to write down a personal goal. Half of the group made their intentions clear and the other half didn’t. They were asked to do 45 minutes of work on their goal and the quiet group averaged 45 minutes of work. The vocal half averaged only 33 minutes.

Now, there are other factors that could have influenced the amount of time spent on the goal. For example, if the goal is something like ‘earn an extra $10K over the next 3 years at work’ it’s difficult to think of what 45 minutes of work would look like in a study scenario. However, it does look like the controlled variable (announcing the goal) is the most important. But please, welcome such claims with healthy scepticism.

This approach is appealing. When I began journaling, I told no one and just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it without other people keeping an eye on me. If I told people, I’d fear I might disappoint them. But that fear alone wasn’t enough to stop me from disappointing them. Which multiplied the feeling of guilt.

Start secretly then let the world know

Instead of telling people I was going to write every day, I wrote every day without others knowing. After I hit a milestone (30 days) I told people what I had done.

I call it healthy bragging.

Rather than saying:

“From next week, I’ll go to the gym 3 times a week!”

Say:

“I’ve been going to the gym 3 times a week and I’m going tomorrow”

The second statement requires us to have evidence supporting our future intentions and you get to tell people about what you’re doing. And feel good about it!

You also get the added benefit of some accountability. You won’t fear you’ll disappoint people because you’ve proven to yourself that you’re capable of working towards your goal.

Your goal affirmation sounds more powerful to the people who hear it and yourself.

***

  1. “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?” by Peter Gollwitzer et al [PDF]
  2. Derek Siver’s TED Talk explains it much better. (~3mins)
  3. Healthy bragging is my own term. It’s brilliant.
  4. It’s important to keep your first steps small.
  5. I’ve used HabitRPG for some time and it’s been useful. It’s recommended.

Thanks for reading.

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