Thursday, October 28, 2010

Should you keep your goals to yourself?

Ian Ayres says no and he lives by that word. Here's what Ayres says in response to Derek Sivers' provocative claim that announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them.
I’m attracted to provocative claims as much as the next person. But this talk is reckless and at times just plain wrong. Sivers tells us in the talk that his “Keep Your Goals to Yourself” evidence “goes against the conventional wisdom that we should tell our friends our goals right so that they hold it to us, err, hold us to it, yeah.”

His inability to get out the last bit at the end, I think, might be a Freudian slip. You see, the experiments that he is alluding to don’t test whether “telling our friends our goals so that they can hold us to the goals” works or not. In fact, the experiments cited are not about announcing your intentions to your friends, but about whether or not your written intentions are noticed by an experimenter. And most crucially they are not testing whether “announcing so that your friends can hold you to your goals” works. If your friends are going to have any shot of holding you to your goals, they must not only know your goals, but they must know later on whether or not you achieved them. This subsequent feedback is crucial, and it is crucially missing from the experiments upon which he relies.

As I started to read this post, I got the strange feeling that I had seen it before. Then, I remembered that I had already wrote on this (back in July of last year, three times: 1, 2, 3):
Revealing your intentions to a confidant is very different than an experimenter quizzing you to see if you really meant to select the answer you selected. The first is personal and (possibly) confidence-boosting. The second feels like you're being quizzed by Regis Philbin on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

People turn to support groups for reinforcement, and there's nothing in these studies that resembles the reinforcement of support groups. If anything, being quizzed about the validity of your answer could shake your confidence. If this is true, these studies compare rattled participants to unfazed participants. Is it surprising that an unfazed participant is more likely to follow through on a goal?
There must be something about debunking this claim that leads to being long winded. Ayres's post is quite long and mine is a three part series.

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