Keep Your New Year’s Resolution to Yourself

No seriously, I do not want to hear them. Do not tell me what they are.

This is not a because I do not care. And this certainly is not a rant. Keep your New Year’s resolution to yourself because I want you to achieve it.

I know, the traditional notion is to write it down and tell a friend because that will keep me accountable. Even better, post it to all my friends on Social Media and that will keep me extra accountable!

The accountability tied to making it public seems so obvious that it becomes counterintuitive that keeping a resolution to ourselves might boost our chances of achieving it. But if telling a friend keeps us accountable, then why are 92% of us (of the 41% that even make resolutions) abandoning those resolutions.

Last December, 2015, my husband told me about an article. The concept was simple: when we share goals and our friends say, “yeah – you’d be great at it!” we derive a certain satisfaction. That affirmation hits some center in our brain that tricks us into thinking we have done it. That in turn decreases our drive to actually do the work.

So I set off into 2016 keeping secrets from my friends as I started on new goals. It worked enough that if  you have had lunch, dinner, coffee, drinks, or even if you are a random stranger on the street, I likely bored you with the concept.

I decided I needed to find the study itself. Maybe it is the lawyer in me, but I needed to validate my statements with the actual evidence. In that quest for the study, I learned the concept was slightly more nuanced then keeping our goals secret to achieve our dreams.

In 2010, Peter Gollwitzer, conducted surveys to test the concepts of identify-related behavioral intentions and false sense of self-completion when publicly announcing goals.  Stated more simply: if we publicly state that we are going to behave a certain way, do we identify with that behavior before we have even done it?

His surveys found we do. In one study, 49 psychology students were given a questionnaire which posed questions to determine how committed they were to becoming psychologists. The participants were also asked to write down two important study goals for the coming week. For half of the group, they were aware that their responses were being read (the “public intention” group). For the other half, they were told the question about their study intentions for the week was erroneously included and would be discarded (the “private intention” group). A week later, the experimenters followed up with the participants. They found that the private intention group, who thought no one read their study intentions, acted on their intentions on more days of the week, than the public intention group.

Other factors, like commitment to the goal, were controlled for. And there is always risk in self-reporting, but the concept is still slightly remarkable: those who thought no one else knew of their study goals (and better yet, did not know anyone was looking)  worked more on those study goals.

Studies, I know, there is one for every belief. But this is not a new concept. Research on intentions, behavior and even substitute attainment dates back to the 1920’s. When it was found that a substitute activity, when witnessed publicly, drove a sense of achievement to an overall goal. The concept has been further explored over the years also linking self-completeness to identity activities being observed publicly. In an extremely over-simplified statement: what we presented publicly became a part of our reality.

As I found myself lost in the depths of the internet, reading research papers and related commentary, I thought: At the heart of all this, I just want to know how to meet my resolutions and goals! I had been pretty excited at the prospect that I could achieve my goals just by keeping them a secret. But not shocked when I learned there was a little more to it.

Clearly the key to goal achievement is much more than keeping a secret. It requires resolve, motivation, incentive, planning, discipline and work. If I am motivated to replicate an action(s) enough, that repetitive action becomes a habit. If I have converted an action(s) to a habit, I have likely achieved my goal.

If I re-read those studies, telling people does not necessarily prevent goal achievement; it just lessens my effort and intensity in achieving it. I need all the help I can get to achieve my goals. So if keeping the goal to myself will mean I am walking the walk, not just talking the talk, it is definitely a tactic worth employing. (plus it is kind of fun to keep a good secret and then say: Surprise! Look what I did!)

Good luck staying on track in 2017! And let me know if you have any goal attainment tricks!

Honesty check: Yesterday I was 6 out of 8 on my daily actions for my New Year’s Resolutions (yes, for the first time, I’m keeping a tally to keep myself honest. And apparently I’m no better than my 4 year old because I get pretty excited when I get to check something off and disappointed when I don’t get to check it off.) I am not getting off the resolution wagon over the two I missed – trying for them again today!

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