Should We Be Telling People Our Goals? Here’s What The Science Says

2016 has arrived and I am still being haunted by the question, “So, what’s your new year’s resolution?” Now, I’ve heard before that if you tell someone what your goal is, you are most likely not going to achieve it. But then again, if I have an idea that I’m excited about, why can’t I share it? I decided to do some research to discover why I should avoid doing something that feels so natural.

Derek Sivers is well known for his TED X talk about keeping your goals to yourself. He argues:

Any time you have a goal, there are some steps that need to be done, some work that needs to be done in order to achieve it. Ideally you would not be satisfied until you’d actually done the work. But when you tell someone your goal and they acknowledge it, psychologists have found that it’s called a “social reality.” The mind is kind of tricked into feeling that it’s already done. And then because you’ve felt that satisfaction, you’re less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary.

This is called a Social Reality. When your goal is acknowledged, it makes it feel like it’s already a part of your identity, giving you a rush of feel good hormones. A study released through the Department of Psychology at NYU titled “When Intentions Go Public” would seem to support Silver’s assertion, suggesting that Social Reality actually widens the gap between intention and behaviour. In other words, social acknowledgement is the driving force behind not completing a goal. Conversely, if you are not supported, or ‘ignored,’ when expressing your goal, you are more likely to achieve it.

Siver also references “When Intentions Go Public” in his Ted X talk, but does not go into quite as much detail. While the study refers to the idea of Social Reality, it also looks at the difference between types of goals . They explain that Identity Goals, which are goals specific to your person — i.e., “I want to be a doctor” rather than “I want to have a salad every day” — are less likely to be realized. Instead of actually doing the work towards this goal, we substitute it with the INTENT of doing it. What ends up happening is that if someone threatens a part of our ‘new identity,’ we substitute it with personality attributes, something called the Self-Completion Theory.

In addition, when you tell someone your goals, you may feel unduly pressured to achieve them, and quickly. This may make you feel controlled, stressed, and judged by the people in your life, who only have your best interest at heart. Silver elaborates that, if, however, “you do need to talk about something, you can state it in a way that gives you no satisfaction, such as, ‘I really want to run this marathon, so I need to train five times a week and kick my ass if I don’t, okay?’ “

This brings us back to self-awareness. Be mindful of the words you use AND who you say your goals to. You should only voice your goals to those who you share a mutual respect with.

Another great tip is to avoid vague goal setting. Instead of declaring, “I want to run a marathon!” try saying, “I am going to run the 5K Terry Fox Marathon this May and I will practice by training two times a week.”

If you express this specific goal (let’s say the marathon example again) to a close friend or family member, they can keep you accountable in a fun and healthy way. Maybe they will join you so that you have to keep each other consistent and on track. Asking for help or advice is always a good idea and it allows you to have proper support. Aside from keeping you accountable, this person can help to remind you why this goal is important to you and how good this will be for your self-development.

“Community adds accountability.  If you’re like most of us, it’s a challenge to motivate yourself.  You’re faced with the contradiction that the same self who has been making all the excuses about why you’re not accomplishing certain goals in life is now attempting to convince yourself to get moving.  You’ll sabotage yourself, but not when you’re accountable to others.” – Sarano Kelley, The Game

So what should you do then?

Make 1-2 manageable, sustainable, action-based goals for yourself that you can strive to reach over the entire year (for example, you can aim to work out 20 times every month).

Put your goal(s) somewhere you can see them everyday, like on your calendar, or create a Vision Board. (Click here for how to create a vision board.)

Refer to the S.M.A.R.T goals graphic

I think we all know we inevitably will share our goals with others, but perhaps we should try doing so in a way that doesn’t yield immediate satisfaction.


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6 January 2016 | 2:14 pm – Source:


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