Thursday, September 15, 2011


You are less likely to accomplish your goals if you tell other people about them. This is the finding of psychology professor, Peter Gollwitzer.

What happens is this: you set yourself a goal – you’re going to be a novelist –; you tell your buddies your goal and they say, “Wow, that’s awesome dude - you’d be really good at that”; their praise makes you feel good about yourself; this good feeling tricks your brain into believing it has achieved its goal; you’re now less likely to do the work necessary to actually achieve your goal.

It would have been better for you if your friends had laughed at you and told you that you’ll never make it.

“I’ll show you,” you would say. And you would put your heart and soul into becoming a novelist, spurred on, at least in part, by a desire to prove your friends wrong.

The brain sure is a tricky thing. For example, I really felt like I’d achieved something once I’d finished putting together my ‘writer’s blog’ website. Good for me, I thought, I am finally doing something towards my goal of becoming a novelist. But, of course, setting up a blog is not really a step towards becoming a novelist.

It seems there is no formula for success. However, perhaps being aware of some of the pitfalls one may encounter on the path towards one’s goal will improve the chances of arriving at the destination.

Peter Gollwitzer’s research on ‘how goals and plans affect cognition,’ is summarised by Derek Sivers in a short talk he gave to in July 2010. It’s worth watching.

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