Why You Should Keep Your Goals Secret

By Jim F


Think of the day when you decided on a life change. You can’t wait to share it with all your family and friends. Maybe you announce it at a party, or share it on-line for all to see:

“I’m going to lose 20 pounds by Christmas, and be fit enough to go running every day!”

Everyone congratulates you on a job well done.

But wait a minute — you haven’t done anything yet?In a recent TED talk, Derek Sivers talks about keeping goals secret. According to research, telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen.

There is some research to back this up. Peter Gollwitzer of New York University specializes in goal-setting. In his article (PDF) about announcing intentions he discovers (in Study 3) that people who have announced their goals give up on them quicker than people who haven’t.

This flies in the face of some thinking. Many people share their goals and believe the disclosure helps to keep them accountable.

Do you keep you goals to yourself? Or do you announce them to the world?

Photo credit Dana Lookado


  1. stephanie

    I think it’s the fact that you want to impress people and give them a “woah” factor but if you let them know beforehand your goals, accomplishing them won’t be as impressing to people because they already knew it was gonna happen. Just my thoughts on it. Good article though:)

  2. Pano Halvah

    As it comes from the comments the oppinions vary. I personally myself follow a “semi state”. I do not start a conversation to share my goals, but when it comes to it, especially while eating then I give hints and clues of what my goals are.

    That is a way to remind to myself what are my goals, and give me motives to stick on them

  3. Natural Muscle Builder

    Good article, good video… great point.

    I’ve heard both sides of this point. It seems to me that it would depend heavily on the goal-setter’s values and beliefs. If a person heavily values the opinions of others and believes he or she will appear foolish by not following through, they might get better results through accountability – especially to a mentor.

    It might even depend on how ubiquitous the goal appears. In our society, we’ve become so accustomed to our peers setting fat-loss goals that aren’t followed through on – it’s almost become a social norm to announce a diet and then never carry it out. This almost provides an “out” for the person in the weight-loss goal-setting context by announcing it to others; they end up fitting right in with what’s “normal” when they “fail.” This is why I don’t set official New Year’s resolutions; they’re too ubiquitous in their un-serious nature. I’d rather set goals through-out the year.

  4. Jim F.

    I think you’ve nailed it there. Some people rely on intrinsic motivators, while others need extrinsic pressure.

  5. musajen

    I wrote down a challenge for myself with goals, etc. and had it sitting out one day. My mom happened to see it when she dropped something by my place while I wasn’t around and she wrote me a note about how proud she was of me… blah, blah, blah. When I saw the note, my challenge was over. I don’t want a captive audience to my goals.

  6. TristanD73

    It’s personality type, I think. I’ve always been inner-directed, introvert type. Prefer working alone on a computer to “team” work. People tire me out and drain me after a couple of hours. If I had to deal with sharing all my goals I’d never get anything done. Just takes that much more of the energy I need to focus on the task. If I had been in a weight loss group, I would’ve given up from sheer exhaustion.

    Now online, however, I found sharing on one site to be fine—just the right goals with like-minded people. Another site had too many people whining how hard it was to lose weight and they distracted me from my purpose, which was to focus on my own weight loss.

    I had to remember it was trying to be everything to everybody that made me neglect my own health in the first place.

    Other folks take great energy from others. Those might find a real life group, sharing goals, etc., quite encouraging. Depends on what works for you; same with the weight loss plan you use.

  7. kathy

    I have told people my goals in the past and it never works out the way I thought it would.(holding me accountable) So now I’m keeping my goals to myself.

  8. Nancy

    I usually keep my goals to myself, but will often write them down and look at them often. Announcing it to others doesn’t help me much. I wear a mycuesticks tattoo that says “I Don’t Fail Until I Quit” and that keeps me going in the right direction.

  9. Lestamore

    I try not to tell people. I don’t know why I find this to be easier, maybe it is a matter of less pressure. When it is just me, I can talk myself into stuff and just take it day by day with nothing to lose and only something to win. If other people are part of it, then there is something to lose and all of a sudden it is so much more scary of a task.

  10. Lysa

    I agree with Blob and Mehitabel. I notice so many people around me talking a lot about their goals but they never ever reach that at the end of the day.

  11. blob

    Schadenfreude – people are mean and enjoy watching people fail.

  12. Lana

    O man I totally get this. Anytime I talk about doing something or achieving something I never get it done or achieve it. If I have a little goal in my head to do something I manage to do it. I prove it to myself that I can do it. If I say to my boyfriend “I’m going to wake up at 5:30am and hit the gym by 6am…” It will never happen. If I don’t announce it, somehow I get up and workout. Crazy.

  13. Jim F.

    In the research, people were given 45 minutes to keep at a task (this task contributed towards them reaching their said goal). They were told they could give up when they wanted to. Those who shared their goals gave up early, while those who did not announce their goals gave the full 45 minutes…

  14. Spectra

    I never announced my goals or weight loss accomplishments to anyone when I was losing weight. I was afraid they would either try to lose MORE than me or would tell me not to lose weight so fast/slow/whatever. When I started running, I DID brag a little when I finally was able to run 5K without stopping…it was my first major fitness milestone. But after that, I kept my eating/exercise habits private and shared with people only if they asked me outright how I managed to lose weight.

  15. b

    This makes sense to me – if you announce that you’ll lose 20 lbs by Christmas, but by November you’ve only lost 10, you might feel like you’ve made a fool of yourself and just give up. Whereas if you don’t tell anyone that that’s your goal, you can quietly revise it in your head and think, well, maybe by Valentine’s Day, then – and be more likely to continue even if the goal is a bit modified. You might even wind up doing it by Christmas, just because you didn’t give up!

  16. Bonnie

    I have a coworker who tells everyone about her dieting struggles and announces her Weight Watchers results every week to the office. She’s having the hardest time losing and keeping it off. I started my own efforts and quietly set about losing 100 pounds. I’ve kept it off for a year and half now. No announcements necessary. For me it was about just knuckling down and doing the work, not making a big public production out of it.

  17. Mehitabel

    I keep things to myself. No one else’s business, and I’m only accountable to me in the end, right? Talk is cheap.

  18. Melanie | Dietriffic

    That’s really interesting. I wonder did they even write down their goals? Or, did they keep them totally to themselves in their mind?

    I remember reading about a Harvard survey, which said of the 5% of graduates who wrote down their goals, 90% went on to achieve them. Unfortunately, I can’t find the reference for that one right now 🙁

  19. Heather

    I do better, historically, if I announce my goals. To good people to announce my goals, those who have similar things they consider important and thus are supportive.