They say that a private life is a happy life. However, being publicly accountable is not without merits. So how do you decide which goals to advertise, and which to keep to yourself? When should your goals be public, and when should they remain private? Ultimately, it all comes down to balancing risk versus reward.

Goal setting can be a tricky endeavour, especially at the best of times. For some of us, planning for the future can be daunting, whilst others may experience motivation just from engaging in the goal setting process itself. Either way, there comes a time when you may feel compelled to share your goals with those around you. Though it may be liberating and exciting to let people in on your plans, sometimes this approach can backfire, leading to setbacks and demoralisation. Let’s look at when you should, and shouldn’t, make your goals public.

Waiting Until You Are Ready

It is better to keep your goals private until they are concrete, as this will protect you from any unforeseen changes that may be triggered by your decision to inform others.

When considering whether to share your plans with others, it is important to carefully examine several factors. Firstly, take a step back and look at the impact your goals may have on the person or group you intend to share with. Not everyone will be receptive to your ambitions, and it may not have anything to do with you as a person. For starters, consider the perspective of your employer, should you let them know you are starting up a side business or eyeing a career move. They themselves have responsibilities and business goals that fall within their realm of accountability, and may take this as an opportunity to start looking for a replacement before you are ready to transition to your new opportunity. In these instances, it is better to keep your goals private until they are concrete, as this will protect you from any unforeseen changes that may be triggered by your decision to inform others.

Secondly, your own drive and determination might be interpreted poorly by some people, especially those who may feel threatened by your ambitions or intent. Again, don’t take it personally, the fact that you are achieving might cause some cognitive dissonance among those who aren’t. Instead of a wakeup call, they may view your actions in a negative light, dealing with their own insecurities and anxiety by opting to criticise you.

Alternatively, publicly expressing your plans may not be in your best interest, from a personality perspective. After some reflection and honest self-assessment, you may come to learn that you lean toward the introverted side. If that’s the case, opening up to others about your goals may not align with your behavioural style. For instance, introverts tend to work in silence, moving toward their targets without much fanfare. To the outside world, this may appear as a lack of progress, after all, why wouldn’t you celebrate every step along the way? Keeping things quiet will reduce the negative friction that will arise from having your private life in the spotlight. That’s why it is important to first self-assess the type of person you are before announcing your plans to the world. It pays to be honest in your own appraisal of self and situation. How will you react to other’s feedback? Do you even want other’s feedback at this stage? Sometimes the best course of action is to remain silent until you are absolutely ready to announce your ambitions to the world.

Public Support And Motivation

Having to live up to the expectations you have set is a form of public accountability that can be used to stay on track, focused and in the right mindset.

On the other side, advertising your goals has a lot of benefits, many of which can increase the probability of your achieving your intended outcomes. For instance, letting your goals be known in a public forum, through platforms such as social media, can lead to a sense of responsibility that fosters motivation. Having to live up to the expectations you have set is a form of public accountability that can be used to stay on track, focused and in the right mindset. Psychologists have identified this strategy as a powerful factor in sustaining the motivation to achieve your goals. When we feel that others are monitoring our progress, we find the will to persevere, increase our efforts and turn in a higher standard of work.

Putting yourself out there also invites others to come along for the journey, which may in turn motivate them to set and reach their own goals. Through social modelling, those around you may see that the possibilities afforded by thoughtful planning and execution, turning wishful thinking into actionable steps. Sharing your dreams and ambitions may prompt others to find their voice and communicate their own ideas, providing a fruitful dialogue of inspiration, courage and support.

Likewise, support can be a two-way street. In the same way your actions indirectly support others by inspiring them to achieve more, those same people may offer you direct support and encouragement along your journey. Friends, family, colleagues and even strangers; generally speaking we all like a happy ending, to cheer on success and see good people do great things. As you get closer to your finish line those voices of support tend to amplify, providing that extra motivation and positive reinforcement to get the job done (or even meet a stretch target). Repeat cycles of public goal setting and successful execution can tie together all of the positive elements we’ve discussed by building a public identity of success, yet another factor that can help keep you on track. This identity may also help open up new opportunities as you become known as a person with integrity, someone who walks the walk and makes things happen.

Striking The Right Balance

So where does that leave us, should you disclose your goals or not? Well, the answer is… it’s complicated. There is no blanket right or wrong answer that can be applied, rather it is best to approach each situation on its own merits. In simple terms, weigh up the risk and reward factors. Take a moment to consider all of the above points, factoring in other people’s perspectives (as best you can) and whether or not your intended outcome is plausible. Reflect on how this information might alter relationships, and if the benefits of going public outweigh any possible costs. Alternatively, there is also the option of choosing to reveal only a part of your plan or a portion of your goals in a public forum.

After all, these are your goals and your story to tell. So before choosing to disclose, consider those around you, consider yourself and consider how this information may hurt or help you. What’s most important is that you set those goals, consistently work toward them and enjoy the journey, with or without an audience.

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