Why You Should Keep Your Goals to Yourself

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Willpower Instinct" by Kelly McGonigal. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you feel excited when you set big goals for yourself? Do you share your goals with others to keep yourself accountable?

Research shows that when you share your goals with others, your brain feels the pleasure of this accomplishment even as you speak the words—you don’t even have to put in the effort of following through. Counterintuitively, since you already felt the pleasure of going, it makes you lose motivation to actually go.

This is why you should keep your goals to yourself until you accomplish them.

When False Hope Makes Us Give In

Why should you keep your goals to yourself? Think about how great it feels when we set New Year’s resolutions. When we vow to change our habits, our brains get a rush of happiness. We are filled with hope, and hope feels wonderful. After all, it’s obvious how great our lives will be after we put those resolutions into place. 

Creating hope is a great strategy for feeling better—it’s instant gratification—but the bad news is that the hard work is about to start. Actually making the changes you’ve proposed is a lot harder (and less fun) than making those resolutions was. 

It’s easy to get charged up and tell ourselves that because we created a great plan, we’re in control. But promising to change our ways only deceives us into feeling good; it doesn’t actually change our behaviors. 

Announcing your goals can also offer a sense of false hope. If you tell your friends you’re going to accomplish a goal—say, go to yoga class three times a week—your brain feels the pleasure of this accomplishment even as you speak the words. You don’t actually have to go to yoga class to feel good—just the idea feels good. But since your brain has already registered this pleasure, you lose the motivation to go do it. To eliminate this possibility, many scientists believe it’s actually more productive to keep your goals to yourself until after you’ve already carried them out. 

Prepare for Willpower Emergencies   

Here’s some good news: Optimism mixed with a sprinkling of pessimism may make it possible to keep those New Year’s resolutions. If you plan ahead for potential scenarios that could derail you, you can be the hero or heroine who saves yourself from a willpower failure. Here’s a scheme to add some stark realism to your plans: 

  • Think about your Personal Willpower Challenge. Ask yourself: 
    • What stumbling blocks will I encounter as I move toward my goal?
    • What distractions are most likely to deter me from my goal?   
    • When will I be most likely to give in or give up? 
  • Now imagine yourself in those situations you’ve just illustrated. Imagine your willpower failing you as you face distractions and temptations. What will that feel like? 
  • Next, think about how you can save the day. What actions are needed to turn this imaginary failure into a real-world win? 
    • Do you need to remove yourself from what’s tempting you? 
    • Do you need to remember why your goal is important to you? 
    • Are there other willpower strategies you’ve learned from reading this summary that you can use?   
  • Imagine yourself employing strategies to reinforce your willpower. Visualize your triumph over scenarios that might have derailed you in the past. 
Why You Should Keep Your Goals to Yourself

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Kelly McGonigal's "The Willpower Instinct" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Willpower Instinct summary :

  • That willpower isn't a character trait but rather an innate instinct that's wired into our brains
  • How marketers can use "neuromarketing" to influence you to purchase more
  • How you can harness your innate willpower to achieve your goals

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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