(Originally written for and published on Headspring’s blog)

public goals

I’ve heard this self-help mantra so many times, in so many forms, that until recently I had accepted it as truth:

If you want to achieve your goal, make it public.

Until recently, when I saw this Ted Talk by Derek Sivers. The thesis: telling someone your goal makes it less likely that you’ll achieve it. Your brain tricks you into believing that “telling someone” = “progress”. You’ll get a flush of endorphins, but your motivation to do the work actually diminishes. And the bigger your stated goal, the worse this inverse correlation gets.

This is important. Making goals public has become the norm, but has also lost its effectiveness. In scrum meetings, people say “Today I will accomplish __” with no reference to what they promised yesterday. In review meetings I’ve seen people write down career goals that follow none of the SMART criteria – essentially, hopes and pipe dreams that can’t be tracked.

So how do we take a basically good idea and make it work for us?

  1. Tell only the people who are affected. Restrict the visibility of your goals to people who have a stake in your success. Now people care. Now they will hold you accountable to it.
  2. Make it a shared goal. If your goals are self-serving, chances are no one will care. How about changing “deliver this project successfully”, which is a pure PM-oriented goal, to “help my team members grow in their careers by delivering this challenging project”. It changes your viewpoint from “how does the world affect me” to “how can I affect the world”.
  3. Celebrate “noble” failures. If you gave it everything you had, and learnt a ton, it’s not a total loss. Record it. Share it with others, like Edison’s 10,000 attempts that did not work. Appreciate people who share negative results (something even the scientific community is just beginning to get right).

public goals

At Headspring Dallas, we recently decided as a group to make our goals visible to each other (the image above is a snapshot of mine). Not for bragging points, but to support each other’s endeavors. We seek and provide immediate feedback. Does it work? Stay tuned to find out.