Want to achieve a goal? Keep it to yourself.

“Those of much talk and few deeds, soon evaporate. Action is the dignity of greatness.” - Jose Marti

We’ve been told that sharing goals embeds accountability. Once you tell people, it inspires commitment, connection and helps make a dream a reality. Or does it?

Decades of research imply otherwise. Here’s why.

The idea that sharing goals helps achieves them comes from the theory cognitive dissonance. If you say you’re doing it and then you don’t, you’ll be uncomfortable. You have a vested interest in being competent and consistent, so declaring a goal about an upcoming new “you,” should inspire you to make this a reality.   

The problem is, your brain has trouble distinguishing reality from hopeful reality, which likely points to why positive visualization and talk is so powerful.  

NYU psychology professor, Peter Gollwitzer calls these versions of you “symbols,” and has studied them in relation to cognitive dissonance. His research has found that cognitive dissonance is not always as motivating as one might think because the dreamt up version of “you” can seem real and rewarding. Especially if you reinforce its “Realness” with talk. In other words, telling people about your goals gives you, as Gollwitzer and colleagues say, “a premature sense of completeness."

An example of this in action: You state your New Year’s resolutions on Facebook and enter dialogue about said resolutions. Even if you never take a single step toward achieving them, that ideal image or symbol of “you” just became a little more complete and real. No wonder only 8% of us ever achieves a New Year’s resolution.

This is why sharing decreases motivation according to the study outlined here at, When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?. Researchers ran four separate studies to analyse the effects of “identity related behavior intentions” (goals) on motivation and action. The conclusion?

“When other people take notice of one’s identity-relevant behavioral intentions, one’s performance of the intended behaviors is compromised. This effect …  is observed in both immediate performance and performance measured over a period of 1 week … Other people’s taking notice of one’s identity-relevant intentions apparently engenders a premature sense of completeness regarding the identity goal.”

Kind of explains why some people are all talk and no action, right? If you can keep getting little rewards for “talking” about achieving something, why bother with action for the big, far off reward?  

Staying quiet about a goal is not enough, of course, to inspire success. This great article at Forbes outlines what research says are the four other key points for setting and accomplishing goals -- believing in yourself and keeping your goal itself simple, tangible and obvious.

So, next time you want to get something done, don’t post it out. Simply be a doer, not a talker.

Human Unlimited
Human Unlimited