Monday, December 21, 2015

Typical Goal Setting Advice

So it is that time of year again...the time where people typically reflect on the year and start setting goals for the new upcoming year. The typical advice about goal setting goes something like this: Set a goal and then tell lots of people about it. That will keep you accountable. The problem, it seldom works. Most of the time it will have an opposite effect. 

Multiple psychological studies, some going back as far as 1927, back this up. But here's the gist: When you tell someone about your goal, you get a sense of satisfaction and even a little tingling sense of achievement. Your mind becomes somewhat content, as if you already achieved that goal. Announcing the goal makes you feel closer to achieving it even though you haven't actually done any work yet. 

Psychologists call this a problem of "social reality" or "social acknowledgement." You've identified with an end goal and get a little excited about the thing you haven't done yet. Now you're less likely to do the work. 

A Better Way

First, you can keep your mouth shut. Resist the urge to talk about your goal. Delay the sense of gratification you get by telling someone your goal. Be the person that achieves cool things, not the person who talks about achieving cool things and never does. 

Another reason to keep your mouth shut, there many bad people out there that don't want you to succeed. These people are dealing with their own doubts and insecurities, and when someone decides to do something great, well, that hurts their feelings a little bit, especially when these goals are much more grand than the ones they have set for themselves. They usually won't blatantly discourage your aspirations, but they will do it more subtlety: Little comments or small actions that cause you to waver. 

Tell your coworker your goal is to lose 10 pounds and sure enough she'll offer you junk food here and there because, "You deserve a reward." 

Better keep your mouth shut about your goals, do your thing, and celebrate your actual achievements, not your make-believe good intentions.