The following is the text of the speech I gave to Toastmasters this week…“You Shouldn’t Have a Goal But If You Do For Crying Out Loud Don’t Tell Anyone!”
I want to see a show of hands of those who made New Year’s resolutions this year. Keep your hands up if you shared those goals with someone else. Each New Year brings new hope that THIS will be the year we get organized, lose weight or cross something off our bucket list. For many people their self-improvement journey ENDS with the announcement of what they intend to do.
Today I am going to turn the tables on the general wisdom of goal setting and motivation. We’ve all heard that we should tell everyone we know what our goals are. The thinking is that people close to us will help keep us honest and motivated when we encounter the inevitable challenges along the way. Well I can make a case that there are TWO things wrong with that strategy.
First, maybe you shouldn’t even have a goal…or at least look at goal setting from a different angle. Why shouldn’t you have a goal? Because it’s too easy to not follow thru. Every one of us has made a list of things we hoped to accomplish and more times than not, nothing changes. At best we write the goal down, but the plan to get there is so complex and overwhelming we give up. Worst case, we don’t even write down our goal and really never think about it after January 1st.
Maybe there’s a better way to keep those New Year’s resolutions. What if you basically forgot about your goal and instead focused on ONE little element of what needs to be done. Let me give you an example, say you’ve decided to set a goal of losing 20 pounds. What’s the typical strategy? You promise yourself you’re going to work and start eating better…both of which will be a shock to your system. A better idea might be to focus on just one of those strategies and come up with a “no exceptions” policy.
You might decide that you will work out each day after work…NO MATTER WHAT! Your car goes straight from work to the gym. You’re tired…too bad there’s no exceptions. There’s a meeting with your kid’s teacher tonight…tell the family they are on their own for dinner. You have to do squats and tricep pushdowns before heading to school.
If you’ve never worked out before and then consistently do so a few times a week…without making any other changes to your life…you’re going to lose weight! You know what? After a couple weeks of not missing a workout…driving straight to the gym after work will become your new routine. THEN you can tackle another element. Maybe you start making your own lunch instead of eating out every day. The point is…you are not focused on a goal with all these different moving parts…the ONLY THING you have to worry about is not missing a workout.
The second flaw with a lot of New Year’s resolutions is that we tell everyone around us what our new goal is for the year. Maybe you should keep your self-improvement plans to yourself. The problem with announcing your goals is often the response you get from your friends and family gives you enough of a “rush” that you don’t feel the need to actually carry thru with your plan.
There’s actually research dating back to the 1920s that back this up. Several researchers called it a “social reality, where your mind is tricked you into thinking you’ve already done it. Think about that…if you’ve felt the satisfaction from telling people your big goal…it often means you are less likely to follow thru and do the hard work necessary to accomplish your goal.
It’s important to make goals and promises to yourself, not for anyone else. You’ll feel more satisfied if you are able to tell others about your success rather than your intention to do something. What would be more exciting…telling someone you are going to lose 20 pounds or write a book or announcing, “Hey guess what? I’ve lost 12 pounds in the last 6 weeks.” or “I just turned in a manuscript to my publisher.” You KNOW your audience will be a lot more excited to hear what you did as opposed to what you intend to do.
Negative motivation can be a great tool to use when you’ve decided NOT to share your goal. Instead of thinking how great you’ll feel when you lose that weight…think about how lousy you’ll feel when you can’t fit into those old jeans or wear that old sports coat you like so much.
As with most theories…there are exceptions. If you’ve been religious about following thru on your annual goals then I’ve probably bored you the past 4 minutes. But if you are constantly talking about the same goal year in and year out with nothing ever really changing…then try keeping your aspirations to yourself; figure out the ONE THING you could do that would jump start your journey and think about how bad you’ll feel if you don’t accomplish your goal.
Finally, If that doesn’t work, go get a gallon of chocolate ice cream! Sometimes short-term rushes ARE better!