To tell or not to tell?

There are two differing ideas that I have read about concerning whether or not to tell others about your plans and goals.

One theory is that if you tell others what you want to do, you will feel social pressure to get it done. You will commit to the work because you can already feel the embarrassment of not being able to succeed. Tim Ferriss, who I am a fan of, endorses this type of commitment. He makes the point that the more you commit to the goal upfront, the harder it becomes to quit. With weight loss, for example, he points out some websites that will publish photos of you without a shirt on that you upload before you start if you do not hit your goal weight.

The other theory is that when you tell someone your goal, you already feel a sense of accomplishment. You feel like you already have done what you want to do, maybe the other person is a little impressed by what you are setting out to do. And because you have already felt the satisfaction, you are no longer motivated to put in the work. The Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman went so far with this principle that he would not allow himself to fantasize about reaching a goal, because he felt it would deter him. More recently, Derek Sivers recorded a TED Talk about it.

My experience between the two has shifted over time. The first method used to work for me, but it is now almost completely ineffective. A great example of it not working is the blog post I wrote where I asked ALL my readers to hold me accountable to hit the goals. Goals reached = 0. Social pressure doesn’t really work on me, mostly because I don’t really care what anyone else thinks of me. There are other types of pressure that might work, but in most cases there is an inverse relationship with pressure and enjoyment. The more pressure the less enjoyment I experience.


I think that the second theory hits the nail on the head. When I tell someone about what I want to get done, I immediately feel good. And I think that it negatively affects my motivation. But in my experience this rule does not apply to everyone. For example, we have some work goals that we are trying to implement. Everyone that is instrumental in getting the work done needs to know about the goal, obviously. But telling someone outside of the project is a mistake, in my opinion.

I told someone the goal the other day. “What a great goal! What a great plan!” they said. I felt pretty good. Look at me, doing cool things. But nothing got done yet. I had to shake the feeling, and start putting in the time to get the work done.

I choose theory #2.

To tell or not to tell?

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