Announcing Goals Leads To Failure

In fact, January 8th is when most people give up their new year's resolutions.Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish themIt seems obvious that we should want support. Shouldn’t we announce our goals, so people can rally around us? Isn’t it good networking to tell people about your upcoming projects? Doesn’t the “law of attraction” mean you should state your intention, and visualize the goal as already yours?Nope.Tests done since 1933 show that people who talk about their intentions are less likely to make them happen. In fact, announcing your plans to others satisfies your self-identity just enough that you’re less motivated to do the hard work needed.In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a “social reality”, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer has been studying this since his 1982 book “Symbolic Self-Completion” (pdf article here) — and recently published results of new tests in a research article, “When Intentions Go Public: Does Social Reality Widen the Intention-Behavior Gap?”Four different tests of 63 people found that those who kept their intentions private were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public and were acknowledged by others.Once you’ve told people of your intentions, it gives you a “premature sense of completeness.”You have “identity symbols” in your brain that make your self-image. Since both actions and talk create symbols in your brain, talking satisfies the brain enough that it “neglects the pursuit of further symbols.”A related test found that success on one sub-goal (like eating healthy meals) reduced efforts on other important sub-goals (like going to the gym) for the same reason.It may seem unnatural to keep your intentions and plans private but try it. If you do tell a friend, make sure not to say it as a satisfaction (“I’m going to run a marathon!”), but as dissatisfaction (“I want to lose 20 pounds, so kick my ass if I don’t, OK?”)

PhotoCredit: Sabina I. Rascol

I think fast

I’m a fast thinker

And my practice is in the slow response. I find that I mull things more, I listen more since I earned my doctorate. I don't share this to hold up having an advanced degree. I'm reflecting on its impact on my personality.Doctorate work has a way of beating all your initial responses out of you for their foolishness. So many people rush to an opinion and form a judgment with so little information. They are in the middle of an amygdala hijack--excited by, threatened by, or interested in what is being discussed--they have an immediate reaction and feel compelled to share it.When a friend says something interesting to me, I too have that immediate spark of interest. I make connections with things I've read in the past, people I've spoken to. But I find that I don't have a well-informed reaction until much later.When someone asks me a deep question, I say, “Hmm. I don’t know.” The next morning, I think of something interesting to write about.This makes me a disappointing person to try to debate or attack. I just have nothing to say in the moment, except maybe, “Good point.” Then a few days later, after thinking about it a lot, I have a response.I used to judge slow responders as "being slow" and it's not until I slowed down myself that I can fully empathize.  Isn't that how it always goes? But I’m not trying to win any debates.It’s a common belief that your first reaction is the most honest, but I disagree. Your first reaction is usually outdated. Either it’s an answer you came up with long ago and now use instead of thinking, or it’s triggering a knee-jerk emotional response to something that happened long ago.If you take some time to think it through, you might find that your first reaction wasn’t current and true--not really. Or if it was, then you can say so with more conviction.The point? When you’re less impulsive and more deliberate with your thinking, it might be less interesting for other people, but that’s OK.Someone asks you a question. You don’t need to answer. You can say, “I don’t know,” and take your time to answer after thinking. You have to slow down to really unlock an idea.Maybe, by example, you can show others that they can do the same.(Can you imagine how the world would work if we all slowed down in order to "unlock ourselves"?)

(Freedom Sculpture — Zenos Frudakis)

No, it's me...not you.

I have a bitchy resting face. That is, when I am thinking or reflecting on something, my face looks angry. I don’t really ever get mad, but I do experience frustration, which can look a lot like being angry.

But, if I’m really honest, there were a few years before #MeToo brought everything to the foreground, where I was very angry.  I spent a few years being really mad at my former colleagues.

They corrupted the culture of the group. They resisted change they themselves said they supported. They focused on their own gains instead of collaborating.

They this. They that. Does this pattern sound familiar?

When someone upsets you, it’s human nature to feel it’s entirely their fault.

But at some point, I flipped a bit and I started thinking maybe it was all my fault.  Yes, really, even in an environment that mercilessly punishes those at fault.

  • I created the environment that let the rotten apples spoil the barrel.

  • I ignored problems instead of nipping them in the bud.

  • I was aloof and away instead of managing or developing others.

  • (I could list many more examples, but you get the idea.)

It was a little bit liberating to decide it was all my fault!

This is way more effective than forgiving. When you forgive, you’re still assuming everyone one else is wrong and you’re the victim. You’re just charitably pardoning their horrible deeds.

But to decide it’s your fault kept me in the driver’s seat! Now, it’s not that I was wronged. They were just playing their part in the situation I created. They’re just delivering the punch-line to the joke I had set up. In the end, human interaction comes down to algebra: what is done on one side, impacts the other.

What power! Now you’re like a new super-hero, just discovering your strength. Now you’re the powerful person that made things happen, made a mistake, and can learn from it. Now you’re in control and there’s nothing to complain about.

This philosophy feels so empowering that I apply the “EVERYTHING IS MY FAULT” filter before reacting.

It’s one of those base rules like “people mean well” that’s more fun to believe, and have a few exceptions, than to not believe at all.

  • The artist that stole $750 from me? My fault. I should have taken the art that day, rather than do him the favor of leaving the piece hanging as part of the exhibit. (To this day, I think he sold that piece twice).

  • I didn’t find my dream job after graduate school? My fault. My dream was much too broad.

  • Don’t like my government? My fault. I could get involved and change it.

See what power it is?

Yes, it is all about personal responsibility but to me that’s such a somber concept. It’s the vegetables no one wants to eat. The lesson no one wants to hear. Whereas “everything’s my fault” is a fun rule-of-thumb.

Try it. Move some of those bricks to the other side.

Think of every bad thing that happened to you, and imagine youhappened to it.

Kinda blows your mind, doesn’t it?

That power looks good on you.

Artist  Jason Ratliff’s series “Super Shadows”  shows popular superheroes in kids’ shadows.

Artist Jason Ratliff’s series “Super Shadows” shows popular superheroes in kids’ shadows.

There will be times you can't pay someone to care

I work with people looking for mentors.

In the beginning, when you are first learning, my advice is to assume nobody is coming. Sometimes, it is more useful to assume that it’s all up to you. This is not being negative. It’s about learning to manage the emotions that come up around early failure: frustration, boredom, depression. Self-management is an invaluable skill.

There may be times you will come out of tough, challenging situations requiring great reserves of strength, like when Aron Ralston got trapped in a remote canyon for five days. He had to cut off his own arm to escape because he knew nobody would rescue him. They made a movie about it called “127 Hours”. If he believed that someone would come, he would have just waited. But because he knew it was entirely up to him, he rescued himself.

When you assume nobody is going to help, you have to use all of your strength and resources. You don’t hesitate to experiment. You can’t wait, because there’s nobody to wait for. It keeps your focus on the things in your control — not outside circumstances. It’s productive pessimism.

Aron’s lesson of extreme independence also made him confront his hubris in going it alone. Knowing how to connect with others, be part of a group, and when to ask for help are equally important life skills. They force you to empathize and to learn through vulnerability. Strive to work with the best collaborators, stakeholders, leaders, etc.

But never count on their help. That’s the difference. Again, it’s about managing the tension of independence and interdependence.

Then, when someone does help you, you’ll be more focused with how you connect.