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Nathanael Garrett Novosel, April 28 2021

When to Socialize Your Goals

You have a burning desire to accomplish a goal.  Do you tell anyone?  Good question; let’s explore the science behind socializing goals.

First, it’s important to be clear about the misconceptions around whether socializing your goals is beneficial or harmful.  If you have seen these studies, you may be aware that news organizations can grossly misinterpret them to create clickbait articles:

While many periodicals make erroneous conclusions about whether it’s better to socialize goals or not based on these one-off studies, the collection of studies can help you see the nuances that will help you understand whether you should do it or not for what you’re trying to do.

The truth is, the main factor determining whether you should socialize your goals is based on your self-motivation.  If you are self-motivated, then the psychological benefits either way are minimal at best.  Self-motivated people who are driven toward what they want in life won’t care what others think about it or distance themselves from people who would judge them negatively for it.  If you use others for support a lot, however, then these effects will matter.

If you do leverage others a lot to support you through rough times while you’re working toward your goals, than the best advice here is also pretty obvious: socialize your goals with people who will be encouraging and positive about them and even help you to do them.  There’s a reason why most innovations happen in cities: the interaction with different people with different perspectives can exponentially increase your speed and progress, and you might be able to make new connections that can help you in ways you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.  Talking about subjects can significantly increase the support you have at your disposal to achieve them.

However, there are the two major risks of socializing your goals: talking to people who will try to discourage you, and expressing goals and aspirations that are socially acceptable for the positive feedback and not for the support.  In the former, if you say that you want to be a professional football player and someone points out that with only 32 NFL teams exist and 46 players per team, there are only 1,472 slots out of millions of people who dream of that goal.  People will appeal to probability or tell you you’re not good enough, which can set you back if you don’t have the inner drive and belief to get through that.  If you are concerned with being discouraged, the risk might be too great to tell anyone.

In the latter example, I personally question whether you really had that intention in the first place or you simply wanted to say something to impress others or gain the social status associated with the goal.  If you really wanted to dance, for example, you wouldn’t be affected by someone “liking” your intention on Facebook.  But if you think that donating to charity, volunteering, striving for a high-status position, or some other goal is something you might want simply for the fact that others will approve of your decision, then of course you will be less likely to follow through if you already received the benefit that was the main reason for you to do it in the first place.

There is one final effect influencing that latter scenario: The Pygmalion Effect.  Usually, this is caused when someone states that you are a certain type of person, so you end up embodying that statement by behaving in ways in line with it.  This works both ways, such as teachers who tell their students that they are smart or hardworking so they perform better, and friends or family members who tell people that they aren’t helpful so they stop helping if they’re not going to get “credit” for what they actually do.

So, what does all this research tell us?  If you’re going to get talked out of doing something you want to do, keep your goals to yourself.  If you need help, find someone who is most likely to be supportive and socialize it.  If you’re just stating positions for the likes, you’ll likely lose your motivation soon after you post them and receive the associated dopamine hit.  Most importantly, if you want to do something that others won’t necessarily understand but you can’t keep it to yourself (e.g., a tattoo, a hairstyle), then it’s best to simply prepare not to care what others think.  As I cover in my Standing Out vs. Fitting In post, you want to fit in so as to be part of the group and not be singled out and ridiculed but stand out in ways that will make you feel special and important.  If you are going to pursue something that others might disapprove of and you want to stay motivated, you’ll either need to keep it to yourself, learn to be comfortable with the disapproval, or find new people who will support you.

Those are your options, and I hope you make the right choices to get the things that you want in life.  

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Nathanael Garrett Novosel

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