Should we stop talking about our goals?

Have you ever announced an ambitious goal to the world and noticed that your willpower and motivation started slipping after a few weeks?

Or maybe you’ve quietly abandoned a personal mission in the past after hearing negative opinions about your plans from other people?

We tend to think of sharing our goals with others as a great way to hold ourselves accountable and increase our chances of success.

By talking about our intentions, we feel like we’re adding a healthy dose of pressure to follow through, as well as getting much-needed support and encouragement along the way.

But what if sharing our goals actually demotivates us to work on them?

Why we can lose motivation after sharing our goals

In 2009, a popular study by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer found that sharing your goal publicly can make you less likely to do the work to achieve it.

His research suggests that when we announce a goal to someone, especially a goal that’s tied to our identity — losing weight, running a marathon, or writing a book — we feel good about ourselves.

That’s because we often get positive feedback from friends, family, or colleagues just for setting that goal.

Natalie Hardie, holistic mental health practitioner and founder of NH Neuro Training, explains that when we get social recognition and early praise, it feels like we’ve already achieved that identity.

Therefore, we’re less likely to do the work that’s needed to make our goal happen.

‘When we share our goals publicly, and others relish in and resonate with our ideas, encouraging us to exceed our potential — we generate a release of dopamine,’ Natalie tells Metro.co.uk. ‘Dopamine is released from the hypothalamus and is associated with reward, pleasure, and motivation.’

‘As we continually share our goals with others and receive positive encouraging feedback, we generate an increased release of dopamine.

‘This makes us less likely to complete the necessary actions to achieve our goals.’

‘The constant release of dopamine makes us feel so good that we feel a premature sense of achievement.’

In other words, our brain tricks us into thinking we’ve accomplished success before we’ve even started.

How to get more benefits from sharing your goal

But is there ever a case for talking about our goals?

Some experts believe that sharing your goals with people can potentially help you commit to them, but it matters who you tell them to – and how.

So, how can we share our goals in the right way?

Share goals with the right person

Recent research challenges the theory that goal sharing is always a bad idea.

A 2019 Journal of Applied Psychology study found that people should share their goals, but it needs to be with the right person.

‘When we share our goals with someone we perceive as of a higher status — and they approve our goals — this increases our motivation,’ Natalie says.

‘Our perception of them creates a sense of credibility for our goals.’

She explains that it can help hold us accountable because we care about their opinion on whether or not we accomplish our goals.

Sarah Knight, certified NLP practitioner and founder of Mind The Gap Business Academy, explains how the dopamine release we get from sharing goals can benefit us when we’re talking to someone who inspires us.

‘Being encouraged by someone you trust — someone you respect — means you are going to want to do that thing for them to garner their respect and build that relationship,’ she notes.

Monitor your goal progress

You’ve probably seen plenty of people use social media to help with their goals like fitness or weight management.

That’s because Instagram, TikTok, and other social media sites have the added feature of helping people monitor and physically document their progress.

‘When we talk about our goals, others may enquire about our progress. This can precipitate motivation, assisting in achieving our goals,’ Natalie adds.

The downside to announcing a goal on social media is that others might share their opinion, positive or negative, which can demoralise us.

‘Natalie says: ‘The pressure of unrealistic expectations, negative comments, comparisons to others who have already achieved your goal — or competition with those aiming to achieve the same goal — can impact the likelihood of you achieving your goal.’

Sarah agrees that self-sabotage is another pitfall of goal sharing on social media: ‘Beating ourselves up if we don’t do that thing is a big possibility and means we can then spiral down which makes it harder to get back up again.’

‘The fear of being seen can be negative as well as encouraging.’

Which goal sharing approach should you use?

The short answer is: It depends.

Perhaps you find it difficult to motivate yourself without someone else pushing you. Sharing your goal with a person that you look up to could help drive you to action.

Maybe you thrive when you have a community to support you.

Tracking your progress, whether it’s through social media or another support network, might help your chances of success.

If your goal is tied to your identity, such as becoming a healthier person or an entrepreneur, then you should probably keep quiet.

Sarah advises we set intentions about small, realistic outcomes rather than big goals.

‘The theory of 1% marginal gains shows the huge compound effect of making small 1% differences,’ she explains. So, the key to accountability with yourself and others is to make it about those 1% goals.’

At the end of the day, succeeding is all about taking small steps to make progress towards your larger goals after setting them.

If you feel like telling people will help you make those actions, great.

But if you’re noticing a pattern of spreading the word, then failing to deliver… perhaps it’s time to keep schtum.

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