You have probably heard that the key to being successful when setting a new goal is finding an accountability partner to hold you to whatever goal you’ve just made. In theory, this makes sense. But it’s just a theory, and as the years have gone on, it has been disproven time and again.
It turns out what you think you’ve heard about effective goal-setting practices is actually wrong. You should never tell anyone else about your goals under any circumstances, at least until you have actually achieved them.
Why? Oh, just a little bit of scientific research is all. If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to make it a point to keep your goals to yourself. Here are the details, why this doesn’t work and what you can do instead to successfully meet your goals.
Here’s what science has to say about sharing your goals
There are scientific studies that prove the theory that talking about your goals negatively impacts your ability to actually achieve them in the end. In his 2010 TED Talk, Derek Sivers sites psychological research that has proven numerous times over that telling someone about your goal makes it less likely to actually happen.
In order to achieve a specific goal, such as working out more, you actually have to put in time and energy on your own to make that goal happen. Ideally, that’s where that proud feeling of fulfillment and purpose comes from. However, the moment you tell someone about your goals, there’s a false sense of satisfaction that creeps in. You almost feel as if you have already made progress toward reaching your goal just by talking about it … even though you haven’t.
As soon as that feeling of satisfaction hits you, you are much less likely to feel motivated to actually sit down (or stand up, depending on the goal) and make real progress. Psychologically, you feel as if you’ve already done the work. One congratulations for setting a goal you haven’t achieved yet, and you’re ready for your reward.
What’s the actual underlying problem here? Isn’t accountability effective?
We tell other people about our goals because, whether we know it or not, we are seeking accountability from them. We want to be recognized for the progress we are going to make toward a specific goal before we even start working toward it. We hunger for the accompanying satisfaction, and hope that the person we tell will be with us every step of the way. After all, we told them first—they’ve earned that right. Right?
The problem is, seeking accountability from other people when it comes to goals doesn’t work so well. That friend you just told about your goal to start working out three times a week really does want to support you. And he will—in spirit.
Your friend, it turns out, has a lot of goals of his own that he’s working to achieve. It isn’t that he doesn’t care about you or your new goal: he just, rightfully so, has his own goals to focus on. Instead of dragging you to the gym and forcing you to climb onto that treadmill, he’s going to be studying for his MCAT, or something.
In truth, we can’t rely on other people to hold us accountable for the goals we want to achieve. It’s very hard to focus on helping someone else reach their goal when you’re trying to accomplish your own, even if you do care about that person and want them to succeed. Therefore, you need to learn to hold yourself accountable, and adopt practices that will help you reach your goals whether someone else is standing on the sidelines cheering you on or not.
Other ways to reach your goals
Holding yourself accountable for reaching your own goals is vital in ensuring that you will one day achieve them. Here are a few different things you can do to provide this kind of accountability for yourself and actually meet your goals without ever telling anyone else about them.
- Document your progress. You can do this through audio, video or by writing things down in a journal, or you can come up with another creative way to record the progress you make toward reaching your goal over time. Keep everything you record to yourself for later review, something you should do both when you’re doing well and when you’re facing some setbacks.
- Buy a whiteboard and hang it on your office wall. Writing down your goals and placing them where you will see them often is a great way to continuously remind yourself what you are working toward every single day. When you actually write down your goals and reading them over repeatedly over an extended period of time, you are forcing yourself to acknowledge what they are and what you need to do in order to achieve them.
- Set up a personal reward system that will help you reach new milestones as you climb slowly and steadily toward your specific goal. For example, if your goal is to work out more, reaching a workout milestone could be rewarded with a brand-new pair of running shoes so you can continue making more workout progress. You wouldn’t want to reward yourself with a few days off only a few weeks into making progress: that would be extremely counter-productive.
Often, success is a measure of whether or not you are able to both create goals and reach them. You are only hindering your own progress by trying to tell everyone you know about what you are going to accomplish. It isn’t a conscious roadblock: subconsciously, it just makes you much less likely to follow through.
This doesn’t mean you should set a goal and never acknowledge it exists, though. You are still responsible for holding yourself accountable, even when you keep your goals to yourself. Document your progress, review them often and set up rewards for yourself that will actually help you continue to work toward your goal. That moment you achieve your goal, and finally get to tell everyone what you accomplished, will be worth the wait.