Does Science Say to Never Share Your Dream Life Goals?

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  • Post last modified:January 14, 2023
  • Post category:dream life

Motivational speakers say, “tell people about your goals and share your dream life so they’ll keep you accountable.” But when was the last time a friend told you not to eat seconds or ask if you put money in your savings account today? Is it really good advice?


Derek Sivers, successful entrepreneur and author of philosophy, believes that telling people about your dream life and goals actually has the opposite effect.

Keep your goals to yourself | Derek Sivers

Did you know that telling someone your dream life goal makes it less likely to happen? The excitement you feel when talk about your dreams, and the congratulations you receive from others, feels so good that you lose motivation. Scientists call this “social reality”. Our mind is tricked into thinking the goal has already been accomplished!

“Our minds mistake the talking for the doing” so we’re no longer motivated to do the work necessary to achieve the goal. We’ve already got all the accolades we need. Keep your goals the biggest secret ever until it’s noticeable. Then when someone congratulates you on your achievement, feel great because that’s when you deserve the kudos.

The science says not to tell.

When I was a teen, I had this whole plan worked out how I was going to lose weight. I was pumped. I thought of every detail, planned my days, got all the equipment together that I needed. I was brimming with excitement. I cried myself to sleep every night when I was in grade 10, but now I was going to change my life and everything was going to be just as I had dreamed.

And then I told my family.

“I’m not buying special food just for one person.” “You have Finlander blood in you, you’re stocky. And there’s nothing you can do about that.” “You don’t have what it takes to lose weight.”

Turns out they were right. Because I listened to them. I believed them instead of my own voice. And not just then. I listened to those tapes in my head for many years to come.

don't tell people about your dream life goals they're too negative

Talking to others about our dream life goals can kill our enthusiasm when they aren’t supportive. In the name of being practical, those closest to us usually bring out the list of reasons why we can’t achieve our dreams. They are well-meaning, they don’t want to see us disappointed, spending money where they think we shouldn’t, expending energy in the wrong direction.

But it doesn’t feel helpful. We are as aware of that list as anyone. But we believe. We want more. When others don’t see a different reality for us, we doubt ourselves. And that’s never good. We need confidence to press through to our dreams.

When we’re filled with self-doubt we lose the energy we need to do what it takes to carry through to the finish line. Telling people about our dream life or the goals we’ve set to get there can be a death knell for the dream.

This is called “Expectancy-Dependent Goal Setting” as studied by Peter Gollwitzer at New York University in 2009. Believing the negative comments of others lowers our expectancy to reach our goals.

The science says not to tell.

disillusioned couple after conversation

In a Reed College Study on motivation they discovered that a type of feedback called “person praise” was detrimental to pushing through setbacks. Even though the person received praise, it had a negative effect when the person struggled to meet their goal. (And we usually do at some point.)

For instance, if you told someone that you planned to go to university and they praised you personally by saying that they thought you were brilliant and of course you should go, this feels fantastic at the moment. But if you find that you struggle to get the grades you are used to getting, their praise would have a negative effect because it might mean you’re not “brilliant” after all.

You haven’t changed, just the setting, but the message in our heads doesn’t see it that way. Instead of focusing on what we need to do to push through, we doubt ourselves. The setback can block our way instead of being a stepping stone because of our mindset.

The science says not to tell.

should you tell people about your dream life goals

Research by Henry Wang & Bill Yang found that if you shared your plans and goals for the future with someone and discovered that they share the same ideas, it’s not as exciting as it sounds. If there is perceived competition to see who succeeds first, it’s human nature to “win by not losing”. You can’t be the loser if you don’t compete – even if it means you have give up on living your dream life.

The science says not to tell.

only tell those who can help you achieve your goals about your dream life

The reason people fall short of doing what they say they’re going to do is called the Intention-Behavior Gap. In order to do what we intend, there are 3 things that have to be in place. If any one is missing, there is a gap in our ability to achieve our goal.

  1. Capability: our psychological or physical ability to participate
  2. Opportunity: are the external factors in place that make it possible
  3. Motivation: the conscious and subconscious inspiration

Telling others about or goal and plans for the future causes a gap. We are less psychologically capable, as Derek Sivers explained. And it effects our level of inspiration and motivation to press on.

The science says not to tell.

tell mentors about your dream life goals because they can help

So, I should just keep my head down and focus on my dream life goals and not tell anybody?

What the science is saying we need to be careful who we talk to about our goals and future plans if we don’t want to set ourselves up for failure.

Howard Klein at Ohio State University did a study on Evaluation Apprehension that differentiated between telling your goals to a peer (or someone lower on the ladder than you), and a mentor or “someone whose opinion you value”. “You want to be dedicated and unwilling to give up on your goal, which is more likely when you share that goal with someone you look up to.”

This is what those motivational speakers meant. Don’t announce your Big Ideas, your Dream Life Goals to the whole world on social media, or your family or crew of friends where it might have a negative effect on your motivation.

Tell someone that makes you feel embarrassed to fail. The study showed that “students who told higher-status people about their goal showed more goal commitment and were more likely to achieve their target grade than those who told lower-status people.”

This study showed that you should tell someone of a higher status, because it increases your chances of achieving your goal.

The science says who to tell.

mentor and student laughing

The best person to talk with about your dream life goal is a mentor who can guide you through all the stages and help you reach your goal.

Not only will this help you have positive motivation, but it will be specific praise that encourages you through setbacks, help you level up until you reach your objectives.

The science says who to tell.

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