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Setting a big goal? You might want to keep your lips zipped

Susan Mathison

'Tis the season for resolutions, intentions and goals for the coming year. Many of us have an ambivalent relationship with goal-setting, maybe because we so often disappoint ourselves.

Common sense suggests that when you've got a big goal, like committing to a new workout routine, eating better, losing weight, or perhaps writing a book or starting a business, you should tell as many people as possible.

After all, if lots of friends know about your goal, you'll be motivated to work harder because you don't want to disappoint yourself or your community.

Plus, your friends will check in with you, and push you, and hold you accountable so that you don't quit on yourself. Right?

Well... maybe not.

In his 3-minute TED Talk, Derek Sivers shares a surprising idea: Telling people about your goal makes it less likely to happen.

Why is this?

As Derek explains, some researchers think it has something to do with the power of "social acknowledgment."

For example, let's say you announce to your best friend: "I'm going to train for 5K race! This year, I'm really doing it!"

Your friend responds by saying: "Congratulations! What a great goal. You can do it. I'm so proud of you."

As you listen to your friend's encouragement, praise and acknowledgment, you feel really great! You feel accepted, appreciated and full of warm, fuzzy feelings.

But there's a catch: once your body is flooded with those types of warm feelings, you're actually less motivated to "do the hard work" that's necessary to reach your goal.

In a sense, your brain has been "tricked" into thinking you're already "done." That's why telling people about your goals can be counter-productive. It gives you a "premature sense of completeness." Or so the theory goes.

My personal opinion: It really depends on your personality and on the type of goal you're trying to achieve.

If your goal is to get a new job, for example, then it's important to tell lots of people, because the people in your professional network can point you towards possible job opportunities, write letters of recommendation and open all kinds of doors for you. You'll get farther and faster if you involve your community.

But in other instances, zipping your lips might be a good idea.

If you've been telling your friends, "I'm going to write a book!" for 10 years in a row, but you're making zero progress, then maybe you could try changing your approach. Zip your lips and start writing in secret. Maybe you'll find more success if you take the no-talking, action-only approach.

My personal goal was to crank out several more articles and get them polished and queued up for publication so that I don't have to worry about writing over the winter holiday break.

But instead, I got sidelined by a winter virus.

So, maybe I shouldn't have said that.

Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.

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