Want to achieve your goals? Science says stop talking

Dear Reddit: thanks for all the love! You guys are pretty cool.

We all have goals. Some of us want to be more outgoing. Some of us want to raise our Pikachu to level 100. If we want to achieve these goals, however, it might be best to keep them to ourselves.

According to a recent study, sharing our aspirations makes us less likely to attain them. The findings, featured in a TEDTalk by entrepreneur and musician Derek Sivers, reveal one of the fascinating ways in which the mind works. Researchers tested 163 subjects across four trials, instructing each to write down a personal goal. Half the participants announced their objective, while the rest kept silent. The subjects were then given forty-five minutes to work toward their goal, after which they described how close they felt to achieving it. The results? Those who had shared their aspirations worked for thirty minutes on average, while those who had not spoken worked for almost the full amount of time. Moreover, participants who had shared their goals reported feeling significantly more accomplished and closer to success than their counterparts, who told the researchers there remained much work to be done.

These experiments suggest that our minds see announcing a goal as partially accomplishing it. The act of sharing our aims tricks our brains into believing we are closer to achieving them, giving us a false sense of success and leading us to invest less effort towards making them happen. Though confiding in others may make us happy, it comes at a loss of efficiency.

This is not the first time researchers have noticed these phenomena. As far back as 1933, psychologists were aware of the mind’s tendency to consider something acknowledged by others as true. Pioneers in social psychology noted that others’ behavior influences our perceptions, often leading to peculiar conclusions. Strange as it may seem, the subtlest of social cues can change the way we see the world.

Talking about goals may lower chances of achieving them.

Talking about goals may lower chances of achieving them.

Does this mean we should never share our goals? Not necessarily. To many a decrease in productivity may seem a small price to pay for the social and emotional benefits of confiding in others. It is also important to consider the potential side effects of keeping our hopes secret—friends and family can offer valuable insight and support, the absence of which may harm efficiency. Regardless, the findings shed light on the complex workings of the human mind. As usual, it seems the brain works in ways more intricate than we can imagine.

So what do you think about sharing goals? Is it strange that tiny things subconsciously change the way we behave? Let me know in the comments section below! As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday!

Click here for last week’s post: Deranged Blogger Declares Death to All Bunnies!

Other related articles:

How our brains stop us from achieving our goals and how to fight back (Buffer)

12 ways to fail in goal setting (Dumb Little Man)

Why telling people your goals is a fatal mistake (Peter Shallard)

Can cloning bring extinct species back to life?

I’m feeling adventurous (click if you dare!)


Comment question of the week

Have you noticed how small things can change the way we think?

7 thoughts on “Want to achieve your goals? Science says stop talking

  1. Thanks for this post. FINALLY! Someone enlightened me and had a clear reason behind this ideology. I had this observation too with myself but never had a proof as to why this is happening. I tried so hard to keep these goals to myself but when I talked to a friend, I accidentally share it. and in turn, it never happened because for some reasons I loose the determination and passion of accomplishing it. it seems time fly so quickly that I never recognized that deadlines I set for a specific goal had already passed. It frustrates me.

    • Glad you like the post, katipocs! It’s always nice when science confirms something you’ve noticed before. This definitely happens to me as well–I find myself feeling proud after I share a lofty goal, almost as though I already have the satisfaction of accomplishing it. It looks like we’re not alone!

      You might want to check out some of the other science articles on the site. A lot of them discuss cool things like this. For instance, did you know science debunks “nice guys finish last?”

  2. These theories, at best, are just statistical validations. They don’t mean anything.

    “The act of sharing our aims tricks our brains into believing we are closer to achieving them, giving us a false sense of success and leading us to invest less effort towards making them happen. Though confiding in others may make us happy, it comes at a loss of efficiency.” — Really? I think most of the people are smart enough to not fall to this. Yes, they might feel happy thinking that they could achieve something but at the same time know that they might not too..

    It’s better for everyone to share their goals and ideas with their friends and family. Doing that not only gives them ways to make sound decisions but also provides a support system in case they fail in achieving their goals.

    Your theory doesn’t stand on reason but numbers and I can hypothesize anything using numbers.

    • Thanks for the comment, Mahim. I don’t understand your objection. Are you saying data and statistics are an unsound basis for study? Data collection and analysis are the basis of the scientific method.

      Using pure reason may be helpful in casual situations, but it is not a scientifically valid approach. A theory with no data to support it is of no scientific value. In fact, if I have one criticism of the study Sivers mentions, it is that researchers could have used more data. That would make its findings much stronger. Thanks again for the comment.

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