May 4, 2013

Four Reasons to Share Your Goals

I spent yesterday afternoon exploring the historic El Morro in Puerto Rico with Amanda and her husband David.

View from inside the massive 70 acre fort

Spanish workers began building the citadel in 1539 in order to defend the port of San Juan and restrict access to the Caribbean, but it wasn’t completed for more than 250 years! Amanda and I both marveled at what a long construction period that is, and how crazy it would be to start progress toward a goal knowing that the end result wouldn’t be achieved for many generations to come. This drew us into a conversation on goal setting – and specifically, how public to make your personal goals.

A few years ago, O! Magazine asked me about goal setting and how I managed to run a marathon in all fifty states. I gave what I thought was one of my best tips: make your goals public so you’re a lot more scared to fail. Since then, a lot of startups have focused on this idea of accountability. Stickk emails a friend to update them on your progress (I used this strategy to successfully transition to a hard stop on work at 5pm on Fridays, allowing me to have at least one night a week that would be guaranteed work-free). DietBet forces you to put your money where your mouth is (or actually, where your mouth isn’t) by asking you to set a weight less goal, bet money on yourself, and only reward you if you reach your goal. (My friend Blake has used Dietbet quite successfully and is starting another round this week – check out her blog and join her if you’d like a virtual friend to share the experience!)

But recent research has in fact shown that sometimes, sharing your goals isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The brain is a funny animal, and sharing your intended goal is often enough for your crazy brain to think you’ve already achieved it! Derek Sivers has an awesome TED talk on it that’s only three minutes long – go check it out here. (And if you’re like me and suck at watching videos because you learn about them when you don’t have time to watch and then forget about them later, check out Radbox, a free service I recently discovered that queues them all up so you can watch them while you’re getting ready in the morning or whenever else is convenient.)

So should you share your goals? As with the choice of whether to set goals or not, the short answer is, it depends. I don’t agree with Sivers’ advice to never share your goals. Instead, I think the secret is figuring out what you hope to achieve by sharing them. Are you at a cocktail party with coworkers and want to talk up your marathon training and how you’re totally going to go sub-4 this time? Mmm, maybe not the best idea. But if one (or several) of the people there are runners, perhaps it’s a good way to solicit training tips. Here are the top four reasons to share your goals; determining which results you are after will help you decide who best to share with.

Original photo credit: Splityarn

1. Accountability. This was the reason I cited in the O! Magazine piece, and I still think it’s a great one. However, to make sure you’re truly sharing for reasons of accountability, you need to make sure that you’re sharing specifics. It’s been proven many times that success is best achieved by breaking a big goal into smaller tasks, which serve as a roadmap to the end goal. While sharing the long-term dream may cause your brain to ease off the throttle, sharing these little accomplishments will keep you focused on building momentum and moving forward. What did you do today to achieve that goal? Talking about your “dream castles in the sky” is pleasant, but talking about the day-to-day construction progress will keep you driving toward your end result.

2. Connection. If the only way to learn is by doing, it can be highly beneficial to link up with others and hear their mistakes so you can avoid making the same. These may be people at a peer-level, or it may be those have already achieved the goal that you want. Instead of being envious of the latter, use them as mentors to help you achieve your own goal harder-better-faster-stronger. As for your peers striving for the same goal, it’s important to make sure that they are still in active pursuit. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into a “me too!” downward spiral when the inevitable unproductive day (week, or month!) comes along. If you want to succeed, surround yourself with other successful, highly motivated people.

If you don’t already know people with similar goals/ambitions, this can also include networking to find those people. Dunbar’s number theory has found that it’s nearly impossible to sustain meaningful relationship with more than 150 people at a time – but if those 150 are each networking with another 150 pepole, that’s a whole lot of people you might be able to reach via just a second-degree connection (over 22,000, assuming no duplicates!). The world is smaller than you think, and LinkedIn was founded on the principle of the magic three degrees of separation. You’d be surprised how willing people are to pass your information along to one of their connections, no matter how weak the ties. In fact, 84% of those who used a contact to find a job did so through acquaintances rather than close friends! Don’t ever feel bad for asking – you never know who you might be able to meet.

3. Support. This tends to be the number one reason that people share on social networks. Who doesn’t want to hear a “go you!” from your friends when you announce your goals? However, because this is the most used, it’s also the most often abused. Before you share, think about why you’re looking for support. Are you having a bad day and need a pick-me-up? Do you need help figuring out next steps? Vaguely saying you want support can be a catch-all category for “I just wanted to tell people,” which is exactly what the research shows you shouldn’t be doing. Instead, crowdsource specific things you need feedback on (“Do you like this business logo or that one?” “Should I follow X plan or Y plan?”) and use your supporters to gain clarity on goals you haven’t yet fully defined. But once you’ve got that gameplan in place, stop wasting time talking about it and go do it!

4. Criticism. Yikes, I know – it’s never fun to get this! But if you’re truly tackling a big goal, I think the naysayers can be the most important people to heed. Living in a fantasy world won’t get you anywhere, and can in fact be quite dangerous. Critics will point out your pitfalls, and if you engage with them in a timely manner, may even help you avoid some of the mistakes before you make them.

The most important thing here is to recognize the naysayers’ reasons for critique. Are they people who have been in the same place and know what they’re talking about, or are they haters-who-be-hatin’? Be careful of lumping people into the latter category just because you don’t like their advice – I’ve found that truly mean-spirited people are rarer than you think. It’s important to be honest with yourself about criticism, and remember that just because it isn’t pleasant doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate. And hey, when the criticism is hard to take, that’s when you go back to your supporters! Part of their raison d’etre is making sure that you’re not focusing on criticism so much that the journey to the goal becomes utterly unenjoyable – that’s a sure path to burnout.

In the end, different people will find that different things work for them – and what works may not be the same for every goal at every time. Starting this blog definitely helped me stay the course through my fifty state challenge, but I’ve also had goals that I’ve chosen not to share since blogging likely won’t help me to accomplish them. (Case in point: I do have a challenge for the month of May, but I don’t think it would fit any of those four reasons to share it on the blog, so I’m just going to do it without discussing. Check back in for a fun June challenge though!)

What do you think – to share or not to share?


6 thoughts on “Four Reasons to Share Your Goals”

  1. I love all these reasons. I love critique and constructive criticism and I do not know why we are so resistant to it in America. Maybe being in academia for so long has allowed me to get used to it and appreciate it to the point where I LOVE it if someone takes the time to read what I have to say or to listen to my ideas to provide feedback. I actually get sad when I see kids who are encouraged to do anything, to be anything, and every little thing that they do is praised. I think this is good for kids, but teachers, parents, nannies, etc. really need to tell them they can do it EVEN BETTER if they try.

    1. Amy, I definitely understand how it can be tough to take criticism, but also completely agree with you that it’s SO HELPFUL. I think part of the trick is getting into a good mindset to listen to it – for example, I freak out when my boss gives me immediate critiques on something I’ve messed up, but I love our biweekly sessions where he gives me the same advice (probably because I know it’s coming). Perhaps I’ll write a blog post on how to give/take criticism?

    2. I know it helped me a lot to understand that feedback/criticism is something to seek out and relish, because if the important people in my life stop giving me feedback then that usually means they know longer care about me.

    3. Nice layout! Interesting to see the changes in the blog. Is it entering adolescence, young adulthood, or old age? 🙂

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