Social reality and the canard about keeping your goals to yourself

I think it was a TED talk by Derek Sivers that got people quoting this all over the internet, about how if you tell people your goals then you get some kind of dopamine hit just by feeling like the kind of person who has those goals and this reduces your motivation to actually achieve the goals. Sivers himself seems to have regretted how his talk was interpreted and posted this semi-retraction:

But identity-based goal or not, the conclusion that you make yourself less likely to achieve a goal by telling people about it defies common sense. I mean, here’s the peer-reviewed science saying my common sense is wrong – – but this is a psychology paper from 2009 so I’m willing to bet real money on common sense, despite seeing no obvious flaw with the paper.

Any psychology researchers in the audience want to weigh in on this? Anyone want to wager money on whether the study will replicate?

PS: Ha, apparently I made this point 4.5 years ago: keep your goals to yourself, except beemindable goals


I am of two minds about this! With the strong disclaimer that I’m an inveterate underachiever/struggle with executive dysfunction, my experience has roughly been that talking about my goals with other people…does nothing to influence my follow-through. I do think I’m sometimes guilty of mentioning a goal that I think I “should” have and getting that dopamine hit from other people agreeing with me that it’s a very good goal, yes, but this is almost always my experience on things that I, to be brutally honest, don’t really intend to do. But I don’t think mentioning goals like that makes me less likely to follow through on them; I think I was just never going to follow through on [whatever nebulous good-sounding goal I’ve mentioned offhand in a social context.] Yes, I would ideally like to take up running again, and I’ve mentioned it socially probably a dozen times, but in all honesty I’m quite aware that’s not happening any time soon.

And with goals I do intend to follow through on, talking about them seems to be a net neutral to net positive. I’ve left social occasions early more than once because if I didn’t leave to write, my Beeminder writing goal would derail. Because I’ve been reasonably vocal about writing more being a priority (and about how I’ll get charged money if I don’t, lol,) the people I spend the most time with are quite supportive/know exactly what it means if I look at my phone and go ‘oh, no, Beeminder,’ and leave for forty minutes, hah

So my intuition is that sharing a goal doesn’t make me intrinsically more likely to follow through on it; sharing an achievable goal that I’m serious about (i.e. a…beemindable goal) either helps or does nothing.


(Without finding the time to scroll through the papers linked,) I think that’s what Daniel was getting at with the post from years ago.
If you say “I’m going to take up running again,” you already feel good about yourself for ‘making this decision’. Would you be able to brush it off if you set a tangible goal, like with writing? I.e. “I’m going to take up running again, and start by doing x sessions per week during April.” Sounds much harder to ignore if you know exactly what your goal is.
At least that’s the interpretation I can get behind.


Almost - for me it’s not an issue of knowing what the goal actually is but actually intending in any way, shape or form to follow through on it. e.g. for me though I vaguely want to be a runner/take up running again (to keep on with this example), I know perfectly well that won’t happen until much later this year, if ever. Doesn’t stop me from mentioning it socially every now and then though if that makes sense

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Everything @caroline12 is saying matches my common sense. It may or may not help to tell others about your goals but it can’t hurt. I also agree with @shaidil that sharing specific (hopefully beemindable!) goals should help.

Either way, the Gollwitzer study seems super wrong to me.

(Also, @caroline12, I love your example of fleeing a party for 40 minutes with an “oh no, Beeminder!” :slight_smile: In fact, any story like that where you’re helping evangelize Beeminder is worth some stickers. DM me your snailmail address if you’d like some!)

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Say you start moonlighting. You hope to turn it into a real business. You tell everybody your goals. In the initial days, it is a struggle, things are not going well. Everybody and his aunt ask you how things are going. You give a big smile and say “Great, I am doing great”. This disconnect between reality and what you are forced to say causes stress in your mind. If you are the kind of person who loves this stress because it motivates you to go work harder, share your goal with everybody.

If you find this stress depressing and it demotivates you don’t share your goal with everybody. Share your goals with people to whom you can say, “Not so good, I am facing this problem.” You do this because you know that person will either offer to help, brainstorm solutions with you, or motivate you.

When it comes to what works or does not work with respect to behaviour, my belief is that the answer is always “it depends”.

What does it depend on?
Here is a snippet from one of my blog posts
Behaviour is driven by

  1. Genes
  2. The Hormonal balances in the womb. (The Indian practice of protecting women who are expecting a baby from stresses, negative experiences are scientifically valid).

This portion of behaviour I call innate.

  1. Your experiences during critical phases of your brain development. You “learn” what right behaviour is.

This portion of your behaviour I call ingrained.

  1. Social expectations and peer pressure. You behave in certain ways that you don’t “want” to behave but social expectations and peer pressure make you behave in those ways and it becomes a habit. (Maybe it is drug use. Maybe it is casual sex. Maybe it is how you to talk about your spouse to your friends.)

This portion of behaviour I call put on.

  1. Context. If your spouse has had a fight with you in the morning or you are suffering from a hangover, you respond differently to an incident at work, then you would normally.

This portion of your behaviour is circumstantial.

So your behaviour actually consists of

innate + ingrained + put on + circumstantial

Ooh this post has gone on for too long. But it is something I feel strongly about. shrug


(Now a major motion blog post!