If you’re not familiar with the TED talks, I recommend checking them out. Ted.com’s tagline is “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” The short videos feature entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropists, entertainers, scientists, authors and thought leaders from almost every field. I’ve watched a lot of TED videos, but last week a Burn the Fat reader sent me a link to a controversial new TED video about goal setting that I hadn’t seen before. In this 3 minute clip, successful music entrepreneur Derek Sivers says it’s better to keep your goals to yourself. I respectfully disagree. Well, maybe not entirely… he does bring up some intriguing questions…
Conventional wisdom says that we should tell our friends our goals because that will create accountability and positive peer pressure. That will increase our motivation, help us stick with it through the rough patches and improve the chances of us reaching our goals. Citing psychology research from New York University, Sivers claims that telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen. According to this research, our minds can be tricked into believing that talking about something is the same as doing something.
In his video from the 2010 TED conference, Sivers has clearly implied that he’s including health and fitness goals in his discussion. However, when I looked up the research paper by Peter Gollwitzer on which his claims are based (in the journal Psychological Science 20:5 pp612-618), I noticed that this theory was based on short term experiments regarding identity-related behavioral intentions about career goals.
One study on psychology students lasted a week. Students were asked to take a survey about their commitment to becoming a psychologist. A week later they were surveyed about how they had acted on their intentions. Those whose intentions remained private acted on their intentions more. Another study involving German law students lasted only 45 minutes.
While interesting, it’s hardly enough to convince me that we can broadly generalize these findings to everyone in every situation.There was no mention of fitness or weight loss goals, no discussion of goals or company vision statements in organizations, no examples of athletic achievements, no discussion of any meaningful, tangible long term goals.
Incidentally, there are piles of research papers and other psychology experts saying the opposite – that sharing goals with those you confide in and even going public with them increases your chances of achieving them. Social psychologist Robert Cialdini for example, with his “commitment and consistency theory,” argues that “once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment.”
Social support can be remarkably powerful. It does everything from reducing the effects of stress by lowering cortisol (Journal of Biological Psychiatry, 54: 1389-1398), to increasing compliance to ANY diet and improving long term weight loss maintenance (Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 67:1, 132-138). More and more weight loss studies are beginning to conclude that compliance (your ability to stick with a diet) is more important than which diet you follow. The kicker is, to get support, you have to ask for it and that means sharing your goals like minded, like-valued people.
While I appreciate the way that various thought leaders challenge the status quo and propose new ideas, in the health and fitness arena, my experience leads me to side very strongly with the conventional wisdom – share your goals.
That doesn’t mean constantly bragging about what you’re “going to do”, nor does it mean talking about your goals with just anyone. If you share your goals with the wrong people – those who don’t support you – their negativity could have the opposite effect, because, unfortunately, so many people are critics, saboteurs and dream destroyers.
I’m talking about establishing a real social support system or master mind group where the people with whom you share your goals are positive and committed to helping you achieve them. Social support research out of Brown Medical School specifically focusing on weight loss suggests that the support is most effective only when you associate with other people who are already successful at weight loss and weight loss maintenance.
Who you associate with matters!
It’s not merely about seeking encouragement and motivation either. Sharing your goals with the right people, including with mentors, coaches and teammates, allows you to solicit and access valuable knowledge and tangible resources that can help you achieve your goal faster.
If President Kennedy had simply kept the moon mission to himself and the space administration, I wonder if Americans would have turned on the TV one day and suddenly heard a flash report that a man had stepped onto the moon? I doubt it. The fact is, at the time Kennedy made his famous speech, all of the technology to achieve the goal had not even been invented yet. The public proclamation is what brought together thousands of the nation’s most brilliant minds who, under the pressure of a deadline-driven, publicly shared vision, figured out how to make it happen.
Each individual may be different in how they are best motivated and how they set and achieve goals. Some people are internally self-motivated. Others are more externally motivated. Some people are highly motivated by positive peer pressure and accountability. . For many people, having eyeballs on them, with the prospect of public failure, is a tremendous motivator.Others like to keep quiet and then one day, surprise everyone with their achievements.
That said, my philosophy is: Share your goals. But be selective about who you share your goals with. And Know thyself. Everyone’s personality characteristics are different. Finally, be a doer, not just a talker. it’s one thing to tell people about your goals. It’s another to be the “more talk than action” type of person.
– Tom Venuto
Discover a bulletproof social support system for long term weight loss:
The Body Fat Solution Chapter 9: The Social Support Solution
Scientific goal setting techniques for fitness and fat loss:
Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle chapter 1: Goal Setting Secrets
How to stick with any diet or training program:
The Most Effective Motivational Force: Accountability
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural (steroid-free) bodybuilder, fitness writer and author of Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle (e-book) and the national bestseller,The Body Fat Solution< /b>. Tom has appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine, as well as on dozens of radio shows including Sirius Satellite Radio, ESPN-1250 and WCBS. Tom is also the founder and CEO of the premier fat loss support community, the Burn The Fat Inner Circle