With the New Year approaching us many of you will be thinking about making our New Year’s Resolutions. The questions is what does the research tell us about which produces the better outcome: keeping your resolution private or publicly sharing it?
A couple days ago I wrote about picking synergistic New Year’s resolutions to increase the chances of your success, along with increasing your overall efficiency. Today, we will examine if keeping quite or publicly shouting out your resolutions leads to the best results.
The case for keeping your resolution and goals a secret
A fairly large body of research that goes back as far as the 1930s suggests that keeping goals to yourself, and away from family and friends, until one has achieved them results in better success. The suggested reason behind this is by publicly stating your goal you prematurely feel like you have accomplished it. As if by taking the step to publicly declare your intention is more than half the battle, and therefore you slack off instead of striving forward to the actual goal.
Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”
A large component of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is centered around publicly declaring to a small group (but not the media) your problem along with your desire to quit your addiction. A wired article explains that while we still don’t exactly know how AA works, but overall it is as good as any other treatment option. However, they have found the belonging to a group is a vital component of AA. The bonds that are formed, and the shared journey and camaraderie goes a long way to helping many of the members.
Now I am not sure how many of AA members tell their family and friends their intentions, I am guessing it is mixed. And I have not run across a study examining the difference between those that did and didn’t.
So you can see how AA might be half-way between publicly declaring your intentions and keeping them to yourself.
A website called secretgoals.com has taken inspiration from AA, and offers an anonymous but social location to find support and help. If you would like your resolutions to be anonymous but would like some shared support you might want to give this site a try.
The case for public sharing of resolutions and goals
Another website called stickk.com takes the opposite approach by encouraging you to make a very public commitment contract. And they site a study done by a Yale Professors that demonstrated that making a commitment resulted in a 81% increase in saving rate. One of the professors involved in the research, Ian Ayres, has recently written a book about the approach: Carrot and Sticks. The logic on the website (and book) is something all of us are familiar with: that we don’t always do what we claim we are going to, and incentives get people to do things.
In what they bill as the smartest way to set and achieve goals: you first state your goal, decide on how much money you are willing to place on this (you give them your credit card number) and where the money will go (such as charity or who you have a friendly wager with), choose a referee to monitor your progress (or failure) and give names of your supporters (more public declaring).
Now you could provide names of supporters but still not tell your family or close friends, but I think in this case most people are only tell the above two groups. Now the one problem I had with this site is while they claim many research papers support their approach, the one paper they actually linked to didn’t quite seem to match their paradigm. But that said I can see how have a friendly bet among your friends on the outcome could motivate the better.
It is interesting that both camps: keep goals to yourself, and publicly declaring your goals are offering University research to back their claims.
Now, the stickk site isn’t just about publically declaring your goals, since you now have money riding on the outcome. In most cases this amount of money isn’t about not being able to afford to eat or go to the movies, it is more a friendly bet. However, your pride is on the line, and now it is a matter of winning the bet with your friend. And we all know how powerful a little friendly wager can be.
On the other hand from what I came across there is actually more research supporting the concept of keeping the resolutions and goals private. It could be just a matter of there has been less research testing out the other approach.
Additionally, particular goals might be better suited for one approach or the other, and each of us as individuals might find one of the approaches works better for them than the other.
Choose which one best fits your mindset and give it a try. I am hoping all of you make a New Year’s resolution to improve yourself in someway and that you are successful. If you choose the publicly sharing approach please feel free to leave a comment on this blog of what your resolutions are.