The Hazards of Talking about Your Goals
Is there an inverse relationship between talking and doing – when it comes
to achieving goals? Does talking about goals help solidify them or jinx them?
I read an interesting blog by Julian Mendoza commenting on Derek Silver’s video
suggesting you should keep your goals to yourself and not talk about them.
It’s an interesting point and most of the comments to his blog didn’t get
what Derek was talking about, so let me take a couple of minutes to
cover the topic… it could be very advantageous for you.
First of all the facts. Derek cited three prominent social scientists
(Kurt Lewin, Vera Mahler & Peter Gollwitzer) who addressed this area,
noting that talking about goals, especially when acknowledged by
someone else, creates a comforting sense that “feels” like the goal has
already been accomplished, certainly underway, and serves as a
substitution for the actual work needed to accomplish the goal. In at least
one study, it served to make the “talkers” less likely to follow through on
the steps needed to reach a goal.
From reading Derek’s blog, you might think that talking is the problem.
It is, instead, the comfort that goes along with talking Let me explain.
First of all when we talk about our goals, we often experience a relief in
confession and self disclosure (which is comforting), plus we get the
positive effect of it “feeling” like we are already on the way.
Second, most people when hearing someone else talk about a goal, engage
in some form of listening, agreeing, supporting and/or mildly comforting
behavior. Most people, if you were to announce you were going to get in
shape, lose weight, become more effective at work, etc… wouldn’t say,
“Yea, it’s about time, you are really late in doing something about that!”
Although it might be better if they did. No they say something comforting
and in so doing actually contribute to helping us not achieve our goals.
What? Saying something supportive actually hinders the person needing
to make a change? Yep.
From my perspective, we all need a certain level of pain going on to
accomplish a goal. We have to want it. And “wanting it” is better served
by being in touch with the pain of not achieving the goal, then it is with
the benefits of getting there. Just the way we are wired, although both
Goals that represent behavior change, are reinforced by both a pull
(positive gain) and a push (negative impact if we stay where we are at).
Comfort, tends to reduce the negative, it turns down the heat, it reduces
our primary motivator and our brain does something even funnier with it.
We think that the comfort generated from talking about it means we’re
almost there,” hey we’ve started haven’t we?” And the fact that someone
else acknowledges our goal, creates a “substitutional reality” (as Kurt Lewin
would define it where we substitute the discussion of talking about it, for
the reality of achieving it) that further reduces our ability to access pain
to drive us toward a goal.
If you think about all the time spent on talking about goals, time spent in
meetings, forums, you realize there are a lot of opportunities to derail
ourselves. So be careful about talking, such that it doesn’t act to derail
you from achieving the goals you have operating in your life today. Be
careful that you don’t give in to the comfort of “talking about it,” and delay
putting in the needed action steps to move you down the path.
Talking about your goals, to the extent it reduces some of the pain that is
motivating you to accomplish that goal, is inversely related to achieving
goals. Be careful when you talk about what you’re going to do, what you’re
going to accomplish, that you don’t confuse the comfort of self disclosing
with the satisfaction that comes from actually making progress, or the
comfort of validation and listening from others, as a sign that you’re
already almost there.
What makes us follow through?