In the past 19 days I’ve heard this question get talked about repeatedly by random people. It’s haunted me everywhere I’ve gone.
Some people have told me that I should talk to other people about my goals, while others have said that I absolutely should not.
But no one has been very convincing in telling me why I should do one or the other.
I’ve noticed that there’s a surprisingly large amount of dogma, blind following, and regurgitation of gurus’ opinions on the topic.
For example, yesterday a girl told me, “It’s a good thing to talk to other people about your goals — you should do it. Oprah said so last week!”, and maybe she’s right, but there’s not much analysis to back up the argument. I wasn’t exactly convinced by the girl.
The question remains:
Should you talk to other people about your goals, or should you not?
There are two different camps of psychology that both have a different answer to the question.
I’ll break down the reasoning behind both of these answers for you.
Why You SHOULDN’T Talk about Your Goals
The people who say that you shouldn’t talk to other people about your goals base their argument on the claim that:
- If you talk about your goals/ideas/New Year’s resolution to other people you will feel good about yourself despite not having executed on it.
In other words, you’re prematurely rewarding yourself. You’re skipping right to the reward of having accomplished the deed without first putting in the hard work required to earn the right to feel good.
How does this work?
It works because your brain, or your subconscious mind as it is often referred to, doesn’t distinguish between real or imagined scenarios.
The same logic is used to explain why phenomena like visualization and mental rehearsal work.
Don’t believe me?
Take a five-minute timeout and think about fighting someone you hate. Think about punching your boss in the face. Think about taking down your worst enemy and stomping on his body repeatedly.
Envision this in great detail.
See how the blood spatters from his face while you give that bastard what he’s got coming to him!
How do you feel now?
You suddenly feel energized and tense as a result of having flooded your system with adrenaline, just from thinking about it.
The reason for this is because the brain and body are bidirectionally connected. The things you do — or say — influence how you feel, and how you feel influences what you do as well.
It goes both ways.
So when you talk about your goals and ideas you’ll start feeling good about yourself, granted that these are things you’re passionate about.
You’ll feel like you’re already accomplishing these goals, even if you aren’t!
Why You SHOULD Talk about Your Goals
Conversely, there are reasons why it might be a good idea for you to talk about your goals.
There are the two main arguments:
- 1. By talking about your goals you’ll force an extra repetition.
It is through repetition that we learn things — this happens by rewiring or strengthening the neural pathways in our brains. The more repetitions we do the more synaptic connections we build and the more reinforced they become as they become covered in myelin.
In my opinion, any extra repetition is a good repetition, because it strengthens that particular neural pathway and speeds up the learning process.
In this case the learning process is that of you seeing yourself as capable of accomplishing your goals — and believing in your own abilities. The more you believe in yourself the more you’ll increase the chance of your goals coming true.
The idea of faking it until you make it works by the same logic.
- 2. By talking about your goals you’ll become accountable for accomplishing them.
If you keep talking about things you’re going to do people will start keeping tabs on you to see if you’re doing what you said you’d do. That is, unless you have shitty friends who want to see you fail.
Here’s the thing:
The mind seeks one thing above all else – integrity and orderliness.
What does this mean?
It means that if you present yourself in a certain way or say certain things people will form an image of who you are.
Once this image has been formed the brain will want to keep it congruent — it wants things to stay the same. People will then unconsciously strive to keep you from changing. Not because they’re evil, but because the brain dislikes change.
This is the reason why a kid who’s being bullied in school for dressing awkwardly will get even more bullied if he suddenly decides to change his dress code and shows up to school dressed in cooler clothes.
The other kids will pick on him and say mean things about his clothes to make sure that he reverts back to how he was before.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the new clothes, it’s just that the new image of how he’s trying to present himself is incongruent with mental image that the other kids have of him, and it makes them uncomfortable.
On the outside this looks like immature bullying — but on the inside is a mental battlefield of the brain striving to keep things congruent.
Reconciling the Two Approaches
So which approach is better?
It’s completely individual.
The first approach, of not talking to other people about your goals, has got many people confused. Mainly because they struggle with separating the cause and the effect behind what successful people do.
They see a successful person who doesn’t talk about his goals. Then they see a ton of losers who frequently talk about their goals and ideas without ever doing shit.
The losers sit around and talk about, “What could’ve been if only… If only they had the support of some influential mentor, if only they had the money to fund their idea…”, instead of just shutting the fuck up and focusing on how to execute.
People see this phenomenon happen over and over again. They quickly make the inference that, “Successful people don’t talk about their goals, only losers do!”.
But it’s not that simple — and thinking that leads to a false conclusion.
The reason that the losers are losers is not because they talk a lot about their goals.
The reason that the losers are losers is because they lack follow-through, discipline, and work ethic.
The reason that the losers are losers is because they are incompetent people who have a flawed understanding of how the world works, and blame their incompetence on external factors.
When the losers talk about their goals to feel good about themselves it probably adds to their incompetence. But it’s not the root cause for it.
The root cause of their incompetence lies somewhere in how they think and how they govern their daily routine.
How they sleep poorly.
How they eat poorly.
How they don’t exercise.
How their attention spans are short.
How they are insecure, scared, and self-defeating without having the tools to overcome these things…
And what is the result of these things?
— That they resort to taking the easy way out by unconsciously rewarding themselves prematurely by talking about their goals instead of executing.
And when it comes to the second approach, that of talking about your goals?
Personally, I think it’s usually a good idea to put it all out there — if you’re an ambitious person.
Because the motivation that comes from not wanting to lose face is powerful — especially in certain cultures, like Asia. Being held accountable by people can be a great motivator.
But here’s the thing. If you’re a hopeless loser people don’t want to hold you accountable.
Because it requires a bit of time and energy on their behalf — and they don’t want to invest that energy in keeping tabs on you unless they think it’s going to help you succeed.
People like supporting winners!
People like supporting daring up-and-comers!
People like supporting ambitious underdogs!
It’s similar to what Cicero said:
We hate gladiators if they are keen to save their lives by any means, we favor them if they openly show contempt for it.
Meaning, that if you got the balls to talk about your –hopefully — big goals, while also showing that you are executing them, a lot of people will go out of their way to help you or cheer you on.
How to Decide what is Right for You
As with everything else in life there’s pros and cons to both approaches.
Both approaches are merely tools for harnessing motivation.
You’ll have to figure out what suits you best by experimenting with both approaches over time to see what yields the best results. Think for yourself and figure out how this applies to your unique situation.
Personally I’m more disposed toward the second approach — which you’ve probably noticed if you’ve read this blog for a while, or if you’ve read my eBook Breaking out of Homeostasis.
My philosophy is this:
I try to get as many repetitions as possible into my life — and speaking about my goals counts for another repetition — which speeds up the process of deliberately rewiring my brain the way I want it to work.
I am currently experimenting with the first approach — that of not talking to other people about my immediate goals. I will stick to this for a few more months and then decide whether to go on doing that or not.
What’s your take on this question?
Do you talk about your goals or not?
My buddy Chris Bailey over at ayearofproductivity has put together a free book on New Years resolutions. The book contains, among other things, interviews with Charles Duhigg and David Allen. You can check out the book site and download it for free here.
If you struggle with follow-through and have shitty/unambitious friends that don’t support you — here’s a site where you can find accountability buddies.