Share Progress Not Goals

Don’t Share Goals

When we share goals we think it’ll help keep us accountable. We believe committing to a new career or a healthier life is easier if we have support from family and friends. And, if we start to fall behind, we’ll have people to encourage us.

Unfortunately, without asking for these supports you’re unlikely to get them. Holding someone accountable is taxing. It may even hurt a relationship. Offering encouragement may seem easy, but it can’t do much without a plan to support it.

Worst of all, if you share goals publicly, you may hurt your chances at goal attainment. This is especially true for identity goals. Those related to perceptions of you; a better spouse, or a budding doctor.

When we announce identity goals it shifts others’ impression of us. We look better in their eyes for improving ourselves. But, people taking note of our intentions elicits a premature sense of completeness, says Peter Gollwitzer.

He conducted a series of studies highlighting this effect in 2008. Each of which showed some degree of this effect hampering progress towards goals.

In one experiment, participants committed their time to studying clinical psychology techniques. Two groups were formed, one where goals were acknowledged, the social reality group, the other whose goals were ignored.

The social reality group with a strong commitment towards their identity goal spent less time working. On average they worked 8 percent less than the social reality group with a weak commitment. And, up to 30 percent less than those with a strong commitment whose goal went unacknowledged.

In another experiment, law students publicly or privately stated their intentions of becoming a jurist. Gollwitzer’s intent was to measure feelings of goal completeness after social recognition. As expected, participants whose goals were acknowledged felt closer to being jurists. A shocking outcome considering they hadn’t put in any effort.

These experiments show how sharing goals deters achievement. Not only do we assume others will view us as closer to goal attainment, but we trick ourselves as well. When we’ve felt a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment, we mitigate our own effort. Why put in the work when we’ve already experienced a sense of fulfillment?

Sharing Progress

While progress takes up the bulk of the goal attainment, planning and effort is haphazard. In fact its often completely dependent on the individual. Even if the goal itself is common, e.g. weight-loss or learning to manage finances. But what seems to matter across all intentions is progress monitoring.

In 2015 a group of researchers noticed a lack of consensus on progress monitoring. They undertook a meta study including 136 research papers. Each looked at the effects of progress monitoring on goal attainment.

Researchers found public progress sharing or reporting via electronics has larger benefits than private monitoring. It increased goal striving through commitment, accountability, public perception, and positive framing.

Progress Monitoring

Once a public commitment is made we’re more likely to act in accordance with it. This is due to our desire for consistency in self and others. While this seems to conflate with advice to not share our goals, I’d argue its essentially different. Stating a goal is nothing more than intention. Whereas progress shows a commitment to self and a change in behavior. A sticking point for consistency.

Personal accountability is a key aspect to public sharing. Progress monitoring is difficult because it forces individuals to own up to discrepancies. In private it’s easy to brush aside failures or setbacks. We understand our reasons and can make excuses. But in public we’ve got to address the self-deception. Excuses turn into calls-to-action that help rectify and adjust behavior. We become accountable to our progress rather than complicit in failure.

Acknowledgement of progress encourages further accomplishments through public perception. Each time we share our progress we receive some form of praise for our efforts. Encouragement from friends and family is something to strive for, a form of intrinsic motivation. This, in turn, creates a reinforcing loop. As we consistently progress the praise continues encouraging further progress until goal attainment.

Finally public sharing allows for positive framing of progress. While it helps track distance to a goal it also allows you to remark on how far you’ve come. Noticing the effects of hard work offers another venue for intrinsic motivation. We can pat ourselves on the back over accomplishments and embolden our work.

Focus on Getting Started

When you start working on a goal, crucial steps must be undertaken to complete it. But, when you share that goal with others it alters your social reality. You hear some praise about how ambitious you might be or how capable you are. This tricks your mind into believing part of the goal is already done. In response you feel as though you can put less effort in. “Your brain mistakes the talking for action”, as Derek Sivers puts it in his Ted talk on the subject.

Instead you should resist sharing your intentions. Focus on getting through the initial steps to get started and monitor your effort. Then share your progress to your heart’s content.

The Positive Side of Stress

What Prompts Stress?

We experience stress when a personally significant situation exceeds our ability. To avoid failure, stress provides support to meet those demands. Stress itself is a neutral response and many of it’s effects, taken in the short term, are positive.

Unfortunately, stress has received a bad rap over the last twenty years. Positive psychologists have urged us to purge stress from our lives and to worry over it’s cumulative effects. While chronic stress can be devastating, it’s unfair to conflate it with the stress we experience every day.

How do our Bodies Respond to Stress?

When stressed our body releases the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and oxytocin. These chemicals instruct the liver to produce more glucose. In turn glucose provides us with a boost of energy meant to aid us in confronting challenge. For most individuals excess blood sugar is then reabsorbed into the body.

Cortisol has additional impacts on our body, primarily in the brain. Cortisol, a glucocorticoid, impairs memory retrieval, but increase memory formation. In response to situations of duress this is exactly what we want. We need to act to avoid uncertainty and danger, not be bogged down by memories of similar events. Strong memory formations help us to avoid stressful situations in the future. Stress ensures memories form with deep links to the experience.

When the body releases oxytocin it’s encouraging you to seek support from friends and family. Shelley Taylor, director of Social Neuroscience at University of California, Los Angeles, studies the effects of stress and its relationship with oxytocin. When oxytocin releases during times of social duress or anguish it may, “lead people to seek out more and better social contacts”, she says. The direct effect of stress-related oxytocin are still under investigation. But research indicates that our bodies release it to encourage positive social behaviors.

Each of these responses is beneficial in it’s own right. Taken together they create an environment of action and support that shows we should see stress as positive. Or at the very least, a neutral response to challenges.

The Purpose of Stress

The purpose of stress is to help us respond to difficult situations in the short term. When followed by rest our body is able to return to homeostasis. Ultimately, stress is a neutral response. What impacts us is the extent of the response and severity of the stressor. We weren’t meant to accommodate multiple, simultaneous burdens or especially severe ones. Long-term unemployment or the loss of a spouse are outside its role. Those events require the support of social interaction, exactly what our brain primes us to do.

Stress acts as a motivator under pressure. It helps us focus, trains our thought, and provides energy and supports. But our response to these feelings determine its impact. Does that focus feel like fixation? Do we feel ourselves getting anxious or energized? The answer to that question outlines our response. When it’s positive psychologists refer to this as ‘eustress’.

What Prompts Eustress?

Plenty of experiences demonstrate the beneficial effects of stress. Often times we naturally enter into a state of eustress, but we attribute our excitement and energy to being, “pumped up”. Rather than recognizing the effects of positive stress.

  • Engaging in a Challenge/Setting Goals

Challenges are important, they push us towards our limitations and sometimes ask us to exceed them. This can come from taking on new responsibilities at work, becoming a parent, or a difficult exam. These are often welcome changes, but they will cause mental and physical pressure. That’s a positive thing, it helps us develop and discover new strategies to cope with difficult situations. 

  • Competition

Competing lets us measure our abilities against peers. It provides us with the opportunity to assess our strengths and weaknesses in a safe, structured environment.  This environment provides an external cue for positive interpretations of stress. If competition results in failure we can try again after we’ve grown.  

The competition needs to be one you seek out. Being held to others standards reduces our autonomy and can lead to a negative mindset.

Factors of Eustress

Eustress is dependent on one’s self-efficacy, mindset, outside supports, and self-control

Self-Efficacy is the primary factor of whether we perceive a situation as causing eustress or inviting distress. It is the belief in our ability to overcome a challenge or goal. As Hans Selye, who first demonstrated the existence of biological stress, said, “It is not stress that kills us, but our reaction to it.”

It’s in this notion of response that determines effect. The higher our self-efficacy the more likely we are to perceive it as a positive experience. So, when we act as if a task is a challenge, rather than an obstacle our assumptions around difficulty change. Low self-efficacy negatively impacts you, conflating actual demand with your perception. Poor perception may make you hesitant to even start as you ‘know’ the result will be failure.

Mindset, taken from Carol Dweck’s work, models our perception to challenge. Individuals with a growth mindset understand that even failure can have positive outcomes. Even if we don’t meet a challenge now, the experience will make us more likely to meet it in the future.

Those with a fixed mindset, like those with low self-efficacy, believe they have set abilities and that failure is an obvious outcome. The difference is in response to that failure. Individuals with a fixed mindset assume it is impossible for them to improve. They believe we establish our abilities at an early age. Reframing mindset can pivot distress towards eustress.

Positive Stress

With high self-control we’re able to focus on challenges and limit procrastination. This gives us the benefit of time. The more time we, the more opportunity we have to experiment with different solutions. Allowing ourselves the time to experiment mitigates the feelings of dread we associate with failure.

Outside Supports: Not every challenge needs to rest squarely on our shoulders. We have many opportunities in life to seek out help and advice to better handle negative experiences. These supports illicit an environment that reduces mental burden and increases efficacy. Even if you don’t end up reaching out for support, the comfort of it can be enough to motivate you.

Reframing Stress

We often hear solely of the negative effects of stress; the toll it can take on our body and it’s pervasiveness in daily life. But stress is neutral. We all experience its positive and negative effects. In many instances our perceptions, not stress itself, influence those outcomes.

If we live in a constant state of worry, we’ll only produce more opportunities for negative stress to creep in. Instead I’d advocate we take the time to better understand our own abilities and how we navigate challenges. Ruminating on stress provides no benefits, and diminishes its purpose.


What is Self-Confidence?

Self-Confidence, Hubris, and Diffidence

There are three primary forms of confidence, hubris, diffidence, and self-confidence. Each is based on similar characteristics, but have stark differences in presentation. Self-confidence is generally seen as part of a person’s worldview, but can also apply to skills and abilities. This is due its effects on behavior and applies to hubris and diffidence as well.

Hubristic individuals believe they are capable of accomplishing anything regardless of past accomplishments. They act entitled to accolades for their accomplishments and are defensive when criticized. It’s easy to perceive them as out of touch because they overestimate their competence. These assumptions often lead to risky behavior. After all, if you can do anything, why not try everything?

Self-Confidence Vector

Diffident people are risk averse, insecure, and easy to discourage. They are likely to experience impostor syndrome and act with a fixed mindset. Diffidence spreads to other facets of life. Individuals see failure as an inevitable outcome and they second guess their ability. Not because they aren’t capable, but because they give up at the first sign of trouble. These failures are internalized and used to reason away the possibility of success in future endeavors.

The Impact of Hubris, Diffidence, and Self-Confidence

Individuals who lack confidence are slow to recover and attribute failures to circumstance and chance. In reality, lack of ability is the real culprit. But, an insecure person won’t attempt to improve their skills. Instead they assume they cannot succeed and remove themselves from the task completely.

Events that change your self-confidence feed off each other. Belief in ability is forward looking, but based on past events. Once you’ve lost faith in your ability you’re less likely to try something new. If you do, you’re more willing to believe you can’t accomplish your goal.

If you push past failure and internalize success you’ll be more willing to try new experiences. You can draw on the current event and reassure your ability to persist even through tough times. These systems are vicious and virtuous circles. Complex series of events feeding off prior outcomes and promoting similar future outcomes.

These feedback loops are why we equate confidence with success and the lack of it with failure. So far research hasn’t proven one way or another which comes first. However, we do know other social emotional skills lead to positive gains in academic and life outcomes. There’s no reason to believe self-confidence is any different, but it’s important to acknowledge all skills that lead to success.

There is a real need to internalize the success we create and take confidence in our ability. The inverse of this, relating success to outside factors is a major determinant of mindset and impostor syndrome. With either trait you inhibit behaviors that promote success because past results rely on external factors.

To mitigate fixed mindset it’s important to allow time for reflection. Self-reflection helps maintain a mental equilibrium. The human mind is prone to storing positive over negative memories. Because of this, we look at our past through rose-colored lenses and focus on results rather than process. While this is beneficial for overall happiness it can lead to overconfidence.

Self-reflection is also a beneficial technique for internalizing success. It’s easy for individuals to play off their contributions when they can attribute it to luck or due to other’s work. This mindset leads towards diffidence and is ineffective for maintaining confidence.

The Difference Between Self-Confidence and Self-Esteem

Self-esteem Vector

Confidence and esteem are often used interchangeably, but the way they affect behavior shows they don’t go hand-in-hand. There are endless examples of confident entertainers who turn to drugs to overcome self-doubt and anxiety. People don’t have to be self-confident to treat themselves well. They may just understand the benefit of good mental and physical healthy..

Studies link both to success and they’re integral components of healthy individuals. They impact academic achievement, graduation rates, physical health, and economic success. So, it’s easy to understand why we end up using both to represent the similar experiences, especially after the self-esteem movement. But, their differences are important and lie in where behavior and belief are directed.

Self-esteem is the belief in one’s self-worth and how we treat ourselves based on that belief. The higher our self-esteem the better we treat ourselves. We act and behave as though we’re worthy of appreciation and proper care.

Self-confidence, the belief in one’s abilities, skills, and what we’re able to accomplish in the future. High self-confidence encourages people to act and reduces stress around new activities.

You’re likely to meet people whose confidence and self-esteem are relatively equal. Self-confidence stemming from achievement helps you view yourself in a positive light leading to higher self-worth. Then, that feeling of worth helps you reevaluate how you should treat yourself. It’s another example of the virtuous cycle that drives feelings towards self.

Considering the positive benefits of confidence and self-esteem how can we help individuals in these areas. And, how can we make sure what we do is right?

Success and Self-Confidence – The Unproven Fact

Self-confidence is lauded as a key to success. In less than a second Google returns 41 million responses and 600,000 scholarly articles studying their relationship. But, national education trends show too much can lead to delusion and only mild success.

The American Freshman Survey acts as a pulse check for incoming college students. It measures self-perception and college readiness based on high school performance. The survey asks students to compare themselves against their academic peers.

It’s important to note that these are self-rated categories. So the results shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but they do provide a glance into the mind of today’s young adult. The following table charts the percent of freshman who believe they are above average or in the top 10% of students. It’s clear the self-perception for many of these students, especially their “drive to achieve” is wildly over estimated.

Self-confidence in a social setting is the only aspect to take a dip in the past few years. Coincidentally or not, the movement aligns with the rise of social media and smartphone use.

More students than ever before see themselves as special or better than their peers. This trend aligns with the self-esteem movement started in the early 70s.

Growth of narcissism and misplaced self-confidence

The self-esteem movement grew from the book “The Psychology of Self-esteem” written by Nathaniel Branden. The book detailed how important self-esteem was for success in life. A claim few could argue against. The problem though, is how parents, advocacy groups, and educators decided to bolster self-esteem. Gold stars, participation trophies, and limiting adversity are the primary tools. Anything to make children feel better.

Unfortunately this isn’t how we gain self-esteem or confidence. It’s almost the exact opposite. People need a way to test their skills to prove competence and gain confidence. If you remove the test by guaranteeing a positive result then you’ve removed the intrinsic reward. The whole activity becomes less motivating because the only thing to gain is exactly what everyone else earns.

It’s this lack of motivation that some attribute to the mediocre academic gains in America. During the same time frame test scores in math and reading grew at a snail’s pace according the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). But, confidence in academic ability has never been higher.

It’s clear self-confidence is important. But, we need to understand the drivers for self-confidence and how it leads to success.

How Self-Confidence Leads to Success

Insecurities and hubris are a detrimental to happiness. They strip away your ability to see clearly and undermine your ability to assess risk. But, what is it about self-confidence that makes it such a key component of success?

  1. Self-confidence based in ability enables you to be more responsive to feedback and less likely to put up a defense when faced with criticism. It also removes implicit bias for your ability and entitlement for success. Instead, you can act as your own critic. Working on the skills that need the most development.
  2. It’s difficult to achieve personal goals. They need time, discipline, and a strong work ethic. Self-confidence, rather than hubris, allows you to see the distance between where you are now and your end goal. This gives you a better estimate of the time and effort needed to finish. It also allows you to internalize your progress and develop further confidence in your abilities.
  3. You’re less likely to be see as arrogant. People will take you and your skills seriously. They’ll place a confidence in you you deserve and trust you to succeed. The less arrogant you are the more likely you are to attribute group success to others. This promotes social trust and confidence in your ability to lead. Finally, you’ll mitigate the deluded self. It’s common for people to see themselves more favorably than others. And, to overestimate positive life outcomes for themselves compared to others.

Confidence that comes from self-measurement and respect is a real key to success. When we see ourselves clearly we reap a multitude of benefits. All of which lead to better life outcomes, most importantly happiness.


Seven Components of Self-Regulation

Self-Regulation Theory

Self-regulation is the process of guiding thoughts, behaviors, and actions in our long-term interest. These skills are the premise behind self-regulation theory and a factor in academic achievement. Self-regulation stems from self-awareness, or the knowledge of one’s strengths and limitations. This practice is pivotal for goal attainment, personal responsibility, and developing growth mindset.

In character development it’s common to talk about traits as all encompassing. If you have grit, self-control, or compassion that’ll be the cornerstone of your success. We know this isn’t the reality. Every person needs social skills to navigate the complex relationships in their lives.

Thankfully, self-regulation doesn’t operate in a silo. It’s components skills and functions culminate to maximize effectiveness. The discerning use of each of these processes is adaptive. Because, only the individual knows what they are seeking, and how they can best achieve their goal.

Mental Abilities

Specific Proximal goals

These goals act as progress indicators and a source of motivation. They have immediate action steps achievable in relatively short amounts of time. Proximal goals work as stepping stones towards a distal goal. Ideally, you set a long-term, or distal, goal first and work backwards with proximal goals.

Strategies for goal attainment

Setting strong goals doesn’t guarantee goal attainment. We must develop processes supporting our chosen pursuit. Research by Kurt Lewin highlights four problem areas for goal attainment. They are getting started, staying on track, willingness to give up on ineffective methods, and staying energized.

Monitoring performance for signs of progress

Growth Mindset IconOne of the primary ways to promote intrinsic motivation and an important mechanism in change and growth. Self-monitoring is different for every activity and may be an in depth process or incredibly simple. Health related goals range from tracking steps to intricate body measurements . It’s up to each individual to determine how beneficial their method is and what they’re looking to achieve.

Belief and understanding that cause gets results

This competence helps determine the effort individuals put into overcoming challenges and the choices they make. It’s often referred to as growth mindset or self-efficacy and has seen a huge resurgence in education. Lacking self-efficacy means you attribute failures and successes to outside sources or strokes of luck. You’re less likely to internalize accomplishment and have a tendency to avoid challenge. If you lack growth mindset you believe circumstance and outcome are predetermined, so what’s the point?

Restructuring one’s physical and social context to make it compatible with goals

To me, the most difficult aspect of self-regulation. This process can include distancing yourself from friends and family who detract from your ideal state. Or, needing to pursue spaces conducive to your work style. Finances, social dependency, and physical location limit this skill. Unfortunately it’s difficulty is related to its necessity. It’s absurd to expect long-term goal pursuit when immediate gratification is present. But, that doesn’t mean you’re hampered if you can’t follow this skill completely. Communication can provide a lot of compromise.

Effective time management

A suite of smaller skills that serve to make the most of your time. Time management includes quality sleep, single task focus, removing distractions, and keeping a schedule. There are dozens of time management techniques, or ‘life-hacks’, but some are far more beneficial than others. I’d suggest limiting the amount you try and use, otherwise you’ll end up wasting time trying to be more effective.


Adaptation and flexibility to interruption

Few things ever go as planned, but our ability to rebound determines whether we achieve our goals. That’s why adaptive people think ahead and see failure as a time for readjustment rather than a stopping point. Planning for interruptions is an easy way to work flexibility into your distal goals. A buffer ensures you won’t have to readjust your schedule for every negative event.


NYU Psych – Gollwitzer

Zimmerman – Self Regulation

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