Have you ever noticed how good it feels to talk about your goals, dreams and aspirations? It’s always nice being able to tell people about something big that’s happening in your life or something you’ve recently achieved. Oddly enough, we get almost the exact same feeling from simply speaking about our goals and dreams as we do from achieving them.
We’ve all had those moments of excitement and joy where we’re enthusiastically telling someone about our newly manifested plan to do something great. Whether it’s little things like starting a new workout regimen or big things like starting a new business, it feels good to share the excitement with others.
Well, it turns out that you might want to think twice about sharing your bold plans for the future. Recent studies have found that people who openly discuss their aspirations are actually less likely to achieve them.
Why? The theory centers around that great feeling you get when you decide to share with others. By simply telling someone about your intentions, you reaffirm your identity just enough to not care about actually following through on the hard work needed to accomplish them.
Peter Gollwitzer, an NYU psychology professor, has been studying this exact phenomena since 1982 when he wrote a book titled Symbolic Self-Completion. But, Gollwitzer’s latest efforts have been published in a research article titled When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?
Peter tells us that researchers in 1933 discovered that most people’s sense of “social reality” manifests based on how their actions and words are acknowledged by those around them. For example, if a person discovered the answer to a problem, told their peers about it, and their peers acknowledged that they had done so, it then became a fact of “social reality” in the mind of the person who solved the problem.
“(Take) a mother who talks about all the great things she’s going to do for her kids — help them do better in school, get better test scores, give them extra training — while all the other mothers nod in approval,” says Gollwitzer. “The chances are high that she won’t do as much as she could to achieve those goals because she’s already viewed as an ideal mother just by sharing her wonderful intentions.”
Everyone has “identity goals” and we often do and say things that we think align with the picture of who we want to be. We have a specific type of identity that we would like to achieve, but when we openly speak about achieving that identity before it’s actually been achieved, we actually take away from our ability to achieve it.
This effect gets amplified when the people around us notice our good intentions or even praise them, as we further gain “a premature sense of completeness.” During one study, a series of four tests found that folks who keep their goals and plans private had a higher likelihood of actually achieving them than those who shared them with the public.
Moral of the story? Focus more on actually accomplishing your goals than speaking about them; it's going to help you in the long run.