Shut Up & Put Up?

We dino-chow, CrossFit, highly-motivated, big-dreaming, free-thinking types are serious goal setters. Nothing gets us fired up like a goal to complete a Whole30 or to push through every workout dictated by a challenge at our local CrossFit box. And we live to talk about it. Boy, oh boy! do we love to bend our friends’ and families’ ears about our mission: the rules we’ll follow and the way we’ll celebrate when we’ve reached those goals.

But does going public with our intentions make us more likely to succeed?

According to a piece in Newsweek, maybe not. When researchers at New York University ran a study on law students to test their ability to reach their goals, based on whether or not they shared their commitment with others, the results were counter-intuitive.

Although all of the law students were highly committed to a career in law, only those who kept their hopes private actually did the hard work needed to achieve that goal… those who had made their intentions known… failed to follow through with intensity.

Blogger/entrepreneur Derek Sivers also examined the research related to this topic. When I read what he wrote, it kind of made my hair stand on end:

Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen. Announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.

You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”

All of which got me thinking about my habits. I do tend to be a blabbermouth when I’m feeling enthusiastic about my goals – but I also mostly do the things I say I’m going to do.

For me, sharing my goals provides two benefits: (1) it makes me feel like I’m drawing my near and dear into my web of excitement; and (2) speaking my goals out loud (or typing them here) makes them seem more real.

As I thought through these patterns I also realized that I usually live with my goals in private for some time before making them public. I poke around the edges of my desires and my intentions to make sure I’m really committed – kind of like when you have a bruise from an altercation with a dumbbell and can’t keep from poking it once in a while to see if it still hurts.

Then, when I’m sure I’m all-in, I announce my plans to the world… and start checking off items on my to-do list to make those plans a reality.

What about you? Does announcing your goals help or hinder you?

Want to read more on this subject? Check out Robert Wicklund and Peter Gollwitzer’s article “Symbolic Self-Completion, Attempted Influence, and Self-Deprecation.” (PDF download)

[Thanks to Mental Floss Blog for always pointing out such cool stuff!]

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  • BarbeyGirl says:

    The brain research bit is fascinating. I wonder how it dovetails with the accountability factor, a traditionally lauded key to success.

    Personally, I am much like you in that I consider my goals carefully, then publish them, then follow through. For me, it's an integrity thing: I believe in doing what I said was I going to do! No excuses.


  • Erika Superguts says:

    This is an interesting concept and of course, I'm completely skeptical. Mostly because, like you, I find that talking out loud, particularly when it comes to my goals and ambitions, provides me with a certain accountability to my audience and more importantly, MYSELF! It's why I started my Gutsy Girl's blog…because I know myself and know that if I'm too quiet about things, I'm not real about what I'm doing.

  • Ehsa says:

    MentalFloss = woof,woof,woof – thank you for the reminder to check out this website!

    On topic, about thinking about revealing one's goals to others, but I am still struggling about where I'm at with that.

    For straightforward stuff, it seems to me to help to share, but for some of the deeper stuff, or stuff that goes against the conventional grain, I keep it more personal.

    I think a lot depends on your posse — mine is divided 50/50 between people I love who (1) think kind of the way I do, and (2) think I'm some kind of wacko to want to be my best healthy me even though they love me.

    I'm going to put some more effort into thinking about the issues your post raises … and how, given my 50/50 environment, I can figure out what level of sharing about goals will help me figure out my best strategy for getting where I want to be.

    So I think I need to review how, and to whom, I state my goals … thank you for a big home hit kinda post that makes me think!

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Hey, Ehsa! Glad you found this interesting. I want to dig into it more, too. Let me know if you come to any conclusions.

  • Kat says:

    Personally talking about my goals "puts it out there" and makes me more accountable to reach them. Especially when someone tells me I won't do it.

  • Melissa 'Melicious' Joulwan says:

    Kat –> I think the "don't tell me I can't" thing works for a lot of people. It only works for me sometimes… sometimes I come back with "yes I can" and others, I just shrug and give up because I rise to the occasion when I feel like people are rooting for me to succeed, rather than challenging me to succeed. But other times, I'm a knucklehead and just bear down to prove them wrong.