Want to do something? Then shut up.

Talking the Talk

Keep your goals to yourself


These have been making the rounds for a bit, but I think that Sivers and Herbert are unaware of even more ways in which they are right, and people need to keep their lofty goals to themselves.

Both assume that the major reason why people fail to achieve announced goals is that they feel they’ve already accomplished something, and flake. But I would advance another reason why this isn’t the case: because other people themselves can … let’s say, not exactly be in your corner when crunch time comes. This can manifest itself one of four ways:

  1. “I’m only looking out for you.” This is the person who receives news of your ambition with a deep, concerned foreboding. If you’re dead set on it, then they’ll support you, but … well, they’re just worried about you, because it’s going to hurt you so much when you fail. Which they’re positive you’re going to do.
  2. “Give me that wheel!” This is the person who hears all about your new plans, and insists that they know exactly what you need to do. And they will tell you this, loudly and in your face, as many times as it takes for them to wrench ownership of your enterprise out of your hands. Fight for your own project, and this person could get nasty.
  3. “It’ll be fun!/Lighten up!” This is the person who is all for your new ambition … until six months later, when you actually have nose to grindstone in pursuit of it. Then, they’re the first ones to complain that you’re taking it so seriously. Jeez, lighten up!
  4. “Yeah, what about that last project that went nowhere?” These are the ones that will remind you of past attempts at self-improvement. In fact, they have stashed those memories, sharpened them in the meantime, and are now drawing blood with them.

It’s a sad thing to say, even for a grumpy curmudgeon like myself, but a lot of people are just not out to see someone succeed. And the effect of these sorts of things can be damaging, even for the most ambitious person. Even if you do succeed in spite of this, it takes energy to fight it, and that’s energy that could have been spent more profitably on your project.

Keep it to yourself. And as Sivers says, if you must state your goals, do it in a way that makes clear the work that needs to be done and that gives you no satisfaction. (For example, turning comments off on your blog. :-D)

I would add: Be extra-extra-extra close with the people within your inner circle to whom you entrust this news. Among those people, who do you really trust? If you were married to Claudia Schiffer or Jude Law, which of those people would you trust in a room alone with your spouse?

Otherwise, keep it entirely to yourself until the last possible moment. Don’t announce what you’re going to do. Announce what you’ve done.