Keep Those Dreams Secret!

800px-SecretsI have lots of dreams. Lots and lots and lots. Typical New Year’s Resolution-style ones, like the beach body. Outlandish ones, like learning to make perfect sauerkraut or getting to Europe without flying (I hate flying. I might also hate ocean-going boats; I don’t know because I haven’t tried).

Like you, probably, most of my dreams go unfulfilled. That doesn’t stop me from making them, or trying different ways to get them met. But for some, I just keep failing over and over again. So hey, gotta put that willpower to work, right?

I have been reading much lately about how useful it is, if you want to stick to your goals, to put them on out there. Undress them, throw them into a storefront window, and let the gawkers gawk. I know, sounds hideous. But in their estimable book Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney talk about follow-through on anything from losing weight to spending less money, and one of the biggest pieces of advice they give is to find some sort of accountability.

Making your goals public operates on the theory that once you’ve told someone else about your goal, you’ll have more motivation to make it happen. Perhaps you won’t want to be embarrassed, or your desire to impress the other person will keep you on track.

This utterly fails for me every time I try it.

In fact, when I tell other people about some new project I want to do, it often seems I get less likely to follow through on it. Why? Is my brain broken? Do I somehow magically decrease my motivation by sharing my hopes with my husband or BFF?

Actually, maybe. I was relieved to stumble across PsyBlog’s article “Why You Should Keep Your Goals Private.” They had me at “why,” since I’d decided a while ago that my projects would henceforth be private when I was starting out. The reason they posit is simple: when you declare a goal, you get a [truly ridiculous] feeling of accomplishment, as if saying you want something actually moves you toward getting it.

In a way, of course, it does. But it’s hard not to think of Jack Handy’s Deep Thought:

It’s easy to sit there and say you’d like to have more money. And I guess that’s what I like about it. It’s easy. Just sitting there, rocking back and forth, wanting that money.

Of course, Baumeister and Tierney’s advice was not as simple as putting your goal out there and walking away. Accountability, they recommend, should take the form of having someone who helps you stick to that goal, thereby negating any false positive effects you might feel simply by declaring it. If you’re going to tell someone, in other words, it helps to make sure they’ll judge you a little bit if you fail. My words, not theirs, but a spade is a spade, people.

This explains a lot. My false feeling of progress actually hinders me by lessening my motivation to go forward. I don’t tell people who are going to judge me: I tell people who are going to support me. People who will tell me it’s okay and feed me cake when I fail. If I’m going to tell anyone, it shouldn’t be my mommy or friends. And somehow I don’t want to tell my enemies.

So for now, I’m going to keep on keeping things secret. Sorry.


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