Social Reality And The Canard About Keeping Your Goals To Yourself

Thursday, November 21, 2019
By dreeves

Blabby faces and zip-lipped faces

It’s now been ten years since the publication of Gollwitzer et al’s paper about, as the internet interpreted it, keeping your goals to yourself. I think I’ve heard variants of “did you hear that science shows that you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you don’t tell anyone?” many dozens of times in the last decade. The hand-wavy theory is that telling people about a goal gives you some kind of dopamine hit just by feeling like the kind of person who has such a goal and this reduces your motivation to actually achieve the goal.

(I don’t want to be too mean to these poor researchers but Gollwitzer et al seems like the epitome of a pre-replication-crisis psychology paper. Right in the abstract you can see tell-tale signs of p-hacking: “This effect held among participants with strong but not weak commitment to the identity goal.”)

The keep-your-goals-to-yourself interpretation seems to have been popularized by Derek Sivers (especially in a TED talk). Sivers himself seems to have regretted how his talk was interpreted and posted a semi-retraction wherein he clarifies that the study he’s referencing is only about identity goals: goals where telling people about the goal is part of what the goal is. If your goal is to be a runner, you’re making that part of your identity by declaring it out loud, which, I guess is now sort of more true by having said it? (Wait, why are my hands waving?)

If I’ve now made you scared to tell your friends about your important life goals, I’m doing a really bad job here. Sivers, too, tries to address that at the end of his TED talk by suggesting that you state goals in a way that “gives you no satisfaction”: Like, “I really want to run this marathon, so I need to train 5 times a week, and kick my ass if I don’t!” But notice what he did there? He just took the goal “I want to be a marathon runner!” and S.M.A.R.T.ened it up, turning it into a specific, measurable, task. And he threw in a Beemindery sting there at the end to boot. So maybe instead of tying yourself in knots about word choice, just beemind your goals.

Identity-based goal or not, the conclusion that you make yourself less likely to achieve a goal by telling people about it defies common sense. Especially for any goal that people beemind you’re well advised to shout it from the rooftops.


 

Coauthored with Bee Soule.
Image credit: Derek Sivers

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