A large body of research going back to the early 20th century explains why it’s a bad idea to let other people know about your goals. When we tell other people what we’re going to do in the coming year, that act of telling deludes us into thinking that we’ve already accomplished the goal. Blogging and social media, I think, makes this even worse in that it gives us all the ability to let hundreds or even thousands of people know what goals we’d like to accomplish in the coming year.
But there’s some subtlety to the research. As this Scientific American article points out, if you let all your Facebook friends know you intend to run a marathon, this can trick you into thinking you’ve accomplished the goal. If, however, you conceptualize a goal as a form of commitment rather than progress, you’re more likely to succeed. A study the article cites puts it this way,
This implies that a behavioral intention worded to indicate a strong commitment to the identity goal (e.g., ‘‘I want to write a paper to become a great scientist’’) should be less negatively affected by social reality than a behavioral intention that implies progress toward the identity goal (e.g., ‘‘I intend to write a paper, as is done by great scientists’’).
In other words, I think there’s a parallel to the way Alcoholics Anonymous frames sobriety as a commitment rather than something that’s achieved.
I’ve decided that publicizing goals on this blog or on the podcast is a bad idea because I don’t think I can adequately distinguish between progress and commitment unless I keep my goals to myself. It’s too easy to fall into bragging mode on a blog that’s dedicated to domesticity. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to make resolutions. I’m just going to keep them those commitments private.
SMART New Year’s Resolutions
And I’m going to be smarter about those goals. Another research-based Scientific American article suggests that our goals be “SMART”:
An example of a bad goal would be, “I’m going to lose some weight.” A “SMART” alternative would be, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by July 1.” The article also suggests that goals be inspiring and difficult but realistic. So, for instance, an uninspiring goal might be, “I’m going to walk more often.” A more inspiring and difficult goal might be, “I’m going to run a 5k.” An unrealistic goal (a lot of newbie runners fall into this one) would be trying to run a marathon without first having years for running experience.
With these studies in mind I’ve set a modest (under 10) number of specific, time framed goals that I have written down. I’m not telling anyone what they are and I’ve decided to review them every day.
Have you set some goals? How did your New Year’s resolutions go in 2014?