Woman Quiet

Why Keeping Your Goals Secret Is the Best Way To Be Successful

Experts have been advising for years that sharing your goals with other people increases your commitment to them.

When you do, you feel accountable. You feel as if you’re on your way to success. Nothing can stop you.

It turns out we got it all wrong.

Psychologists have found that, by telling someone your goal, you are actually less likely to accomplish it.

Huh?

By giving voice to your goal, you feel like you’ve taken a huge step forward. Unfortunately, this feeling—called “social reality” by psychologists—is just that: a feeling. You haven’t actually accomplished anything yet.

Saying your goal out loud widens the gap between what you intend to do and what you actually do. It disembodies the goal from your actions.

On the other hand, by keeping your goals secret, you maintain that sense of urgency and drive to keep moving forward. You feel like there’s still a lot of work to be done, and you double down on self-discipline and control. You make plans, create to-do lists, and take action.

With no one aware of your intent, your intention-behavior gap remains small—exactly where you want it.

Derek Sivers gave a TED talk about the benefits of keeping your goals to yourself, citing four psychology studies since 1926 consistent with this counter-intuitive approach:

  • 1926—Kurt Lewin, considered the father of social psychology, found that sharing your goals became a substitute for doing them. The act of talking relieves some of the tension of doing.
  • 1933—Wera Mahler’s found that acknowledgment of a solution you’ve announced creates a social reality int he brain.
  • 1982—Peter Gollwitzer, psychology professor at NYU, explored the concept of social reality in his book Symbolic Self-Completion.
  • 2009—Gollwizer published the results of four tests involving 163 people that further validated the theory.

Sivers describes the four Gollwitzer tests from 2009:

“Everyone wrote down their personal goal. Then half of them announced their commitment to this goal to the room, and half didn’t. Then everyone was given 45 minutes of work that would directly lead them towards their goal, but they were told that they could stop at any time. Now, those who kept their mouths shut worked the entire 45 minutes on average, and when asked afterward, said that they felt that they had a long way to go still to achieve their goal. But those who had announced it quit after only 33 minutes, on average, and when asked afterward, said that they felt much closer to achieving their goal.”

The participants who announced their goals (1) gave up early and (2) experienced false progress. The other participants remained motivated.

Although these findings are surprising, the underlying psychology makes a lot of sense.

Keep this in mind the next time you feel like opening your mouth about your exciting new idea, project, or business.

Secrecy eliminates nay-sayers

Telling others your goals is also an unhealthy way to seek approval, according to Dr. Robert Anthony in The Ultimate Secrets of Total Self-Confidence. Negative people get the chance to talk you out of what you want to do.

He calls this the “Secrecy Principle”:

“By disclosing your goals you will dissipate valuable energy needed to accomplish them, as well as set up opposition from those who wish to control you.

Most people will try to talk you out of your goals. They dislike seeing anyone having more or doing better than they are, and will resort to almost any extreme to put down someone who tries to break away from mediocrity.

Don’t give nay-sayers an opportunity to rip apart your ideas before you even get started.

Even fantasizing has its risks

Another study found that merely fantasizing about a positive future might reduce your ability to anticipate problems and plan contingencies.

Don’t confuse fantasizing about success with expecting success. The study found that expecting a positive outcome (instead of dreaming) is actually a good thing.

When you dream, or fantasize, there’s not always a basis in reality or experience. When you have expectations, you are simply confident in the outcome based on the actions and skills you’ve developed so far.

It’s a fine point but worth considering. Positive visualization has its place, but beware of unrealistic fantasizing.

Caveats to this strategy

An exception to the rule is when you’re partnering on a goal with someone else. For example, if you need an accountability partner to train for a 5K, you’ll obviously need to talk to that person. But you can still keep it secret from others.

Psychologists in this study listed some other caveats that could possibly make sharing you goals more effective:

  • Consider relevant traits of the people you’re sharing it with
  • Share specifics, like standards of success or a schedule to follow, that the other person can use to hold you accountable
  • Provide a specific plan of action and contingencies for unplanned obstacles (if X happens, I will do Y)
  • Use the form “I will practice interview answers to successfully land my dream job” instead of “I intend to practice interview answers, since that’s what successful job-seekers do”

Personally, I think this secrecy works. When I keep my goals secret, I feel driven to push forward knowing that I’m only accountable to myself. I can’t make excuses.

However, I also share goals with my wife—because she’s the most supportive person in my life. No matter what, she will encourage me.

Sharing your goals with only the most positive members of your support alliance is perhaps an exception to the rule. Forming an accountability group is one way to be very specific and purposeful about this.

Michael Hyatt suggests that, while this probably works well for individuals, it may not be the best advice for organizations. If a leader’s role is to establish a vision and inspire the organization to work toward specific outcomes, secrecy seems counterproductive. On the other hand, he notes that the theory might work for keeping goals between your team and secret only from outsiders.

Final thoughts

Try experimenting with this for your next big goal. Just keep it a secret. See what works for you. Instead of asking “what’s the worst that can happen”, ask yourself “what’s the best that can happen?” It might be the trick you need to accelerate your success.

Have you experienced this phenomenon? Let us know below whether keeping goals secret was a successful strategy for you.

If you liked this article, you might also like howtoattainsuccess.com.

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Philip Pape is an author, public speaker, and Success Coach who helps smart people become confident and self-disciplined at howtoattainsuccess.com. He’s here to help you transform your approach to life—while making it all feel like it’s who you were meant to be. Checkout his free giveaways here. Follow Philip on Twitter @philip_pape

PHOTO CREDIT: LaVladina