Setting Goals: Tell Others or Keep it to Yourself?

What is your most recent goal? Are you trying to lose weight? Or tackle a “Whole 30” challenge where you eat only whole foods for 30 straight days? Or have you decided to get serious about saving for retirement and set up a Roth IRA?

Whatever it is, you are probably wondering: should I tell my friends and family about this goal?

Reasons to Talk About Your Goals

At first glance, the answer would seem obvious: yes!

First, if you are doing something that will involve change for people around you, it may be necessary to talk about it. For example, consider that Whole 30 challenge. If you the one who does the food shopping and meal preparation, everyone else needs to know that you are going to be changing things up for the near future. You may find it hard to stick to the plan if you are buying forbidden treats for everyone else or making multiple dinner options. You may ask people to keep those “extras” to a minimum to make shopping easier for you. You could offer to prepare “Whole 30” meals for everyone but give them the option of making something for themselves.

Second, talking about your goals may get someone else to join in. Studies have shown that having an “accountability partner” helps both people stick to the plan, knowing that someone else is invested in reaching the goal together. Not wanting to disappoint the other person can help you stay motivated. In that Whole 30 challenge, other family members may get excited about the idea and want to take part as well, helping you stay the course on those nights when you really want to call out for a pizza. 

Talking about your goals is also necessary if you want to get advice. If you are going to start saving for retirement but aren’t sure which is the best way to do so, talking to a friend or family member with more knowledge in this area is a good way to get some direction.

Reasons to Keep Your Lips Zipped

On the other hand, there may be good reasons NOT to speak up about your goals, at least not before you have gotten underway. Here’s one of the biggest reasons: talking about it might undermine your ability to reach success.

It sounds counterintuitive, but it has to do with how our brains work. Psychology researchers have found that when you announce a goal you are starting on, your brain feels like you have already taken a big step toward success. You probably will tell people who will react well, giving you positive feedback and encouragement. These positive feelings fool your brain into thinking you have reached the goal, or are well along the way. Therefore you are less likely to take the next steps. 

Instead of talking about it out loud, a way to make the idea concrete for yourself is to write it down, but don’t show anyone. Write out your goal in concrete terms: “For the month of May, I will do the Whole 30 challenge and complete it, eating only whole foods for 30 days straight.” While you are at it, write down the feelings you imagine having when you complete the goal and the advantages of reaching it. You will feel healthier, maybe even lose some weight. You will try new foods and take a big step toward kicking some bad habits, like too much soda or junk food in your diet. Even better, you will feel great about setting a challenging task for yourself and completing it.

Keep that page handy and read it again when you feel your resolve flagging. Encourage yourself rather than looking to others for that satisfaction. It is certainly a nice boost to announce a goal and get positive feedback – but how much more amazing will it be to tell everyone once you have reached the goal? You will get that positive response, but also know that you have already earned it; you don’t have to follow through to keep it going.

But what if you really need that advice or an accountability partner, or you need to communicate with people around you that you are making some changes that will affect them, too? First, only tell people who really need to know, and couple it with asking for help. For example, if you decide to cut out sweets from your diet, you might let your co-worker know if you need to ask her not to tell you when there are donuts in the break room.

Also, make sure you only talk to and ask for assistance from people who will keep your best interests up front. Everyone knows people who fear change or get competitive and can even try to sabotage your efforts. They may not even do it consciously. But if you suspect or know that a friend or family member might cause you to stumble rather than help lift you up, don’t talk to them about your plans.

The best approach is to start with the assumption that you will keep your goal a secret until you have reached it or at least made some serious progress. Next, consider if you need to tell someone in order to ask for help or invite them to join in. If you do need to talk about it, make a conscious decision to do it, and decide in advance how you will phrase your statement and couple it with a request for advice or support. In this way, you can get the assistance you need while avoiding the pitfalls of disclosing your goal.