Time to Shut It

Time to Shut It


Here’s something counter-intuitive: If you want to achieve your biggest personal goal, and you set your mind to doing it, the best way of making it happen is to make sure you tell absolutely no one about it. Not a word.

Say what? Say nothing

Derek Sivers, multi-million dollar entrepreneur, speaker and musician explains. He says that even though we get a kick out of telling everyone our goal and enjoy the congratulations and high esteem they hold us in, which helps us to feel motivated before we even start, this behaviour actually makes us less likely to achieve our goal.

The mechanics of achieving goals

When we decide on a goal, there is work that needs to be done. Conventional wisdom tells us we should spread our intentions far and wide so friends and family hold us accountable. But here’s the clincher:

When you tell someone your goal and they acknowledge it, the mind is tricked into feeling that it’s already done, a psychological phenomenon called social reality.

The mind becomes tricked into feeling that the goal is already achieved because of the satisfaction you felt in expressing it, which then makes you less motivated to do the actual hard work necessary. That treadmill you excitedly bought in preparation for marathon training now becomes a glorified clothes hanger.

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Sound a bit like hogwash?

Here’s some proof from social psychologist, Kurt Lewin that goes back to the 1920s. Because of a process called ‘substitution’, when a goal is acknowledged by others, it feels real in the mind of the person expressing their goal. If the 20s is too far back to still be valid, an experiment was conducted in 2009. 163 people wrote down their personal goal.

Half the participants announced their commitment to their goal, half didn’t. Everyone was then given 45 minutes of work to do something that would directly lead them towards their goal, but they could stop at any time.

The findings? The group that kept their mouths shut worked for the full 45 minutes, and when asked afterwards, felt they still had a lot of work to get done to achieve their goal. But those who announced their goal stopped working after only 33 minutes and when asked afterwards, felt they were much closer to achieving their goal.

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Making goals that last

The trick to setting and working towards goals is to delay the gratification you get from social acknowledgement. By removing the confusion your brain feels with talking versus doing, the likelihood of achieving is greater.

Here’s a trick. Next time you want to talk about your goal, talk about it in a way that doesn’t give satisfaction. For example, “I really want to run a marathon this year, so I need to train five times a week. And if I don’t then kick my ass, okay?”

Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.