As we enter the new year, everyone is going through the old tradition of making resolutions and goals, only to later not follow through on any of them.

According to Derek Sivers, part of the problem is we blabber about our goals too much. When we tell people what we want to do, and they acknowledge it, this changes our “social reality.” It feels as though we have already achieved that goal, even though – in the real world – we haven’t yet done any of the necessary work.


It turns out this phenomena has been known for almost a century now. In 1926, Kurt Lewin, founder of social psychology, called it “substitution.” In 1933, Wera Mahler found that when our goals are acknowledged by others they feel more real in our minds. In 1982, Peter Gollwitzer wrote a whole book about the phenomena, and in 2009 he did several new studies.

In the studies, Gollwitzer gathered 163 people across 4 separate tests. He had everyone write down a personal goal, and then half of them announced their commitment to the goal to the room, while the other half didn’t.

Then, everyone was given 45 minutes of work that would directly lead them closer to achieving their goal. They were also told they could stop working at anytime.

Those who kept their mouths shut worked the entire 45 minutes (on average), and still thought they had a lot more work to do after they left. However, those who announced their goals to the room only worked for 33 minutes (on average) and later said they felt much closer to achieving their goal.


How can we avoid this false sense of achievement?

Derek Sivers recommends that we keep our goals to ourselves, or share our goals in a less satisfying way. You could say something like, “I need to run this marathon so I need to train 5 times a week, and kick my ass if I don’t.” By acknowledging the hard work you need to do, you won’t be so easily content with just sharing your goal. Also, your friends and family can you hold you more accountable.

So while trying to achieve your future goals, please don’t mistake the talking for the doing. A lot of worthy goals take effort and dedication, and by acknowledging this reality we better equip ourselves for actually following through with what needs to be done (and not just imagining it).


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