Don’t Talk About Your Goals: Talk Is Cheap

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Ego Is the Enemy" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why do they say “don’t talk about your goals?” How can publicizing your goals compromise your chances of achieving them?

If you are into personal development, chances are you are familiar with the “don’t talk about your goals” mantra. There are several ways talking about your goals can prevent you from achieving them.

Read on to find out why they say “don’t talk about your goals.”

Don’t Talk About Your Goals

Ego often drives people to talk about themselves in positive, self-promoting ways. We see this kind of egotistical “talk” every day, as people post their thoughts, activities, and interactions with other people all over social media. 

People do this because they naturally like validation from others. Further, working toward goals is difficult, but talking about goals is easy and fun. Self-promoting talk can, however, prevent you from achieving the very things you’re bragging about because it replaces action, which is what’s actually going to make you successful. 

Talk and action compete for the same finite resources: time and energy. Self-obsessed “talk” prevents us from effectively pursuing our goals by: 

  • Monopolizing our time
  • Sapping our psychological energy
  • Preventing the important silence within which productive reflection takes place. 

We’ll explore each of these areas below and understand why you don’t talk about your goals if you want to succeed.

Self-Promoting Talk Wastes Valuable Time

We have a fixed number of hours in each day. When we talk about working toward something instead of actually working toward it, we rob our goals of the time needed to achieve them and allot that time instead to nonproductive activities. 

Sometimes, we rationalize the time we spend on self-promotion by telling ourselves that self-promotion is actually an important part of the process. Unfortunately, when we do this, we misunderstand the order of priority: Self-promotion is necessary, but only when you have something to promote. Self-promotion before you’ve achieved your goals is procrastination.

Self-Promoting Talk Saps Your Psychological Energy and Will

Studies show that self-promotion can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, self-promotion acts as a sort of visualization, which can be a powerful psychological tool.

However, too much visualization can actually have the opposite effect: After a certain point, our subconscious mind confuses visualization with actual progress. If we talk about, think about, and explain a project long enough, we begin to feel we’re closer to achieving it, even though we may not have taken any actual, measurable steps toward our goal. 

Instead, Allow for Silence

To properly struggle with a task, we must pause and focus our attention on that problem completely. If we fill that pause with talk, we deny ourselves the opportunity to properly focus on our task. But if we instead allow for silence, our minds start the true work of wrestling with the challenge we face. This is why people who achieve great things often don’t broadcast what they are working toward until they are well on their way.

Don’t Talk About Your Goals: Talk Is Cheap

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Here's what you'll find in our full Ego Is the Enemy summary:

  • How to resist your emotions so you can keep thinking clearly
  • Why your passion may be preventing you from achieving your goals
  • How to apply the philosophy of Stoicism for success as a leader

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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