Keep your Goals to Yourself

I recently watched the following Ted Talk by Derek Sivers (it's short, only 3:45).

The main idea in this video is that sharing your goals with other people actually makes you less likely to achieve those goals. 

At first, this idea struck me as wrong. It seems counterintuitive to most advice, which states that sharing your goals is helpful because it will keep you accountable if you veer off track.

But the more I thought about it, it started to make sense.

By sharing your goals, you trick yourself into feeling like you’ve accomplished something. There’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from telling your teammates, friends and family about the big, audacious goal you’re chasing. Psychologists call this “social validation,” and it feels good.

Moreover, there's an illusion of progress when you share your goals. Just telling somebody about your goals makes you feel like you’ve already taken a step toward achieving them. Because you feel like you've made progress, you end up not working quite as hard to achieve them. 

So, your brain tricks you into thinking you’ve made progress (when you actually haven’t) and it makes you feel good for doing it. Thanks a lot, brain.

The key to dealing with this problem is to differentiate between goals and commitments. Goals are your destination, the desired outcome. Commitments, on the other hand, are the actionable steps you're going to take toward achieving your goals.

  • For example, your goal might be to become an 80% free throw shooter. Your commitments are to shoot 50 free throws (in sets of 2) after practice and record your makes and misses.
  • Your goal might be to dunk by the beginning of next season. Your commitments are to complete three explosive leg workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week and 15 minutes of stretching every morning. 
  • Your goal might be to play in the NBA. Your commitments are the daily skill work, weight training, nutrition habits you follow.

By sharing your commitments (rather than your goals) you can avoid the trap that our brains play on us. Commitments can help us manage the illusion of progress problem that I mentioned before.

Sharing your commitments works because they hold you accountable while not providing the false feeling of progress. Telling someone you're going to shoot 50 free throws after practice every day doesn't give you the same kind of self-satisfaction as saying that you're going to become an 80% free throw shooter.

Moreover, a focus on commitments gives you little daily wins to keep you motivated. If you're only focused on the long-term goal, it's easy to get discouraged because it feels so far away. Sharing your commitments and sticking to them gives you little wins that can inspire you through the inevitable difficult stretches that accompany striving for a goal.

In conclusion, share your commitments widely but keep your goals to yourself.