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Why You Should Not Reveal Your Goals (& When It is Okay to Do It)

No matter what stage you are in your life, you probably have some goals for yourself. Whether you want to expand your business or learn a new skill, your vision of the future is what pushes you forward. Your goals also reveal a lot about who you are and what kind of life you wish to live.

Generally, we tend to share plans with our friends and family. But have you ever considered how it affects your performance? Should you share them with others? or Should you keep your goals a secret? While the people in our lives may offer some helpful input at times, revealing your intentions to everyone is not a good idea. Not only is it harmful, but it can even prove to be fatal as far as achieving your dreams is concerned.

So, why should you keep your goals to yourself?

When you reveal your goals to other people, your brain releases chemicals that would otherwise be released on the accomplishment of the goal. Every time you share your plan, this release of chemicals takes place, making your brain believe it’s already happened. It decreases your motivation to put in the necessary work, which, in turn, makes you less likely to follow through.

Also, feedback from other people can be a tricky thing. If you’re a beginner, negative feedback will put you off. But interestingly, if you’re an expert, positive feedback can slow you down.

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Are any of these reasons backed by science, or is it all mostly subjective? Well, science also tells us not to reveal our goals to anyone. Various researches have confirmed that not keeping our goals a secret demotivates us. Sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? After all, we share them with others so they can encourage us to walk the path. Why would it demotivate us? What about sharing goals to create social pressure, accountability, and expectations?

To answer these questions, let’s explore the relationship between your plans and your surroundings in detail. This is where I’ll cite research and try to convince you to keep your plans to yourself 🙂

It’s a proven fact that your mind cannot distinguish between imagination and reality. If you don’t believe me, try this short mental exercise:

Imagine a fresh, juicy lemon. Notice its shiny, yellow skin. Now, imagine cutting it in half with a knife. Due to the knife’s pressure, tiny droplets of lemon juice spray out. Lastly, imagine taking that lemon and squeezing it into your mouth.

You’re salivating, aren’t you?

Your unconscious mind deals with imagination and reality in much the same way. When you share your next big plan with your peers or friends, your eyes light up. You suddenly start to feel happier. This excitement is because your brain is releasing all kinds of happy chemicals. It perceives the topic of your conversation to be something real and rewards you accordingly.

When you tell someone about your plan, you imagine your future success in front of them. This visualization convinces your unconscious mind that you have already succeeded. Sharing your dream with someone is almost as emotionally rewarding as working hard and achieving it.

Think about it. Why in the world would your brain push you to work your socks off and live your dream in reality? Can’t you get the same endorphin rush by just telling people about your solid strategy to lose those extra pounds? So, according to your brain, you don’t have to work for it to experience the post-win joy.

That’s where the problem lies. This temporary chemical kick can become an addiction. You’ll soon find yourself sharing your ideas with everyone you meet, and never really working on them.

The most important goals in a person’s life are identity-based goals. What is an identity-based goal, you ask? It’s a goal that influences your concept of who you are. It’s when you know that after achieving a particular purpose, you will become a different person, and you’ll see yourself differently. Some examples of identity goals are taking up a hobby, becoming a volunteer, learning a new language, and one of the most obvious, your career choice.

Back in 2009, Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues published research. It showed that a person is less likely to follow through on a commitment if he or she has publicly shared his or her identity-based goals. The researchers asked several law students to fill out a questionnaire. They measured their level of commitment to becoming a lawyer. The students who showed a high level of commitment were then split into two groups.

The researchers now had two groups of aspiring lawyers, they asked the students in the first group to confirm that the answer they circled was the one that they had intended. Now, all students of the first group knew that they had shared their goals with the experimenter.

However, for the second group, the researchers asked them to drop the questionnaire into a box, which made the choices of the second group anonymous. So in their mind, none of the students of the second group had shared their goals with anyone.

After the questionnaire, both groups had 45 minutes to work on legal cases. As you might have guessed, they found that the first group devoted less time working on the cases than the second group.

When you tell other people that you want to do something, you psychologically achieve a part of your identity goal only by sharing your plan, you no longer have to work so hard to prove yourself. This fake achievement, so to speak, makes you less likely to follow through and put in the actual work.

In 2011, a review published by Ayelet Fishbach and her team observed several existing studies and conducted new ones. The objective was to determine what role positive and negative feedback play in the pursuit of one’s goal.

The researchers found that if positive feedback indicates a commitment to your goal, it will increase your motivation. On the other hand, if the positive feedback indicates progress towards your goal, it will end up decreasing your motivation. Let’s look at what that means in simple terms.

Imagine being a student and getting an excellent grade in Physics. If you see your grade as a sign that you like physics (i.e., you’re committed to physics), you will begin studying harder. However, if you take it to mean that you’re making progress in the class (i.e., you’re getting better), you’ll probably loosen up a bit and study less, right?

The researchers observed American students studying French. They found those beginner students preferred to have an instructor who offered positive feedback. On the contrary, advanced students preferred to have an instructor who gave them negative feedback.

The research concludes that beginners want to get positive feedback from others so that they can evaluate their commitment to the goal. On the other hand, experts are more likely to stick to their plan if they receive negative feedback. It is because they are concerned with measuring their actual progress toward their goal.

So if you are just starting, positive feedback will help you stay on track while negative feedback can put you off. The opposite is true if you are an expert. And since you never know how the other person is going to respond to your idea, it is usually better to keep it to yourself.

Mostly, yes. You should make it a rule. However, just like every other rule in life, this rule has its exceptions as well. Maybe you’ve decided to share your goals with others for accountability or social pressure. Or you simply don’t know how to keep things to yourself (No judging). Whatever the reason, if you’re going to tell someone, do it strategically.

Think about how it’ll affect your chances of fulfilling your dream. Is the other person really a well-wisher? How will they probably react? Are they genuinely happy when you’re flourishing? Are you committed to your journey regardless of how others see it?

Yes, you should answer all of these questions.

As a side note, you should ask yourself some serious questions even before letting people into your life. We’ve talked about how your company influences you in one of our other articles – Why You Should Choose Your Friends Carefully.

Conclusion

Odds are, you’ve already shared your goals with people before. Think honestly about how it affected your performance. Then, you can decide for yourself. However, I hope this article helped you realize that working hard in silence is mostly the best way to go about it.

Like many of us, I’m also guilty of sabotaging my progress by announcing my intentions publicly – more than once, to be honest. However, I’m not too upset at not learning to play guitar after sharing that with everyone I know. It is because I’ve found that I’m better at language than music.

Does that mean I’m learning a new language? Hah! Nice try, but I’ve learned how to keep things to myself. So just wait and watch. I’m almost done, by the way. And when I finish learning it, I’ll certainly share my journey with the world through the internet. So keep an eye out for HigherSpanishConcepts.com in the near future!

Wait, did I just do it again? Oh, man.

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Tommy P.
Tommy P.

My very first thought when I became aware of my very own consciousness in this earthly world was... "whoa... why are we here? what's the meaning or purpose to life?" I was never able to shake these questions... So come join me on my podcast of rants on many different topics that will assist you in seeing things through a rose-colored lens and on living a life of well-being.

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