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?
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.
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.