Tip of the Week: Don’t Share Your New Idea

This week’s tip: Don’t share your new idea.

(That is, until you are SURE you know how you are going to follow through).

ShhWhen I first heard this idea presented in Derek Sivers’ TED Talk, “Keep Your Goals to Yourself”, it seemed pretty counterintuitive to me. As the kind of person who tends to be motivated by external accountability (e.g., I’m more likely to finish a logo design quickly when it’s for a client than when it’s for myself), I had always thought that sharing my ideas and goals with others would make me feel more accountable for my intentions and thus more likely to accomplish them.

When I started to think about the idea for this blog, I felt very tempted to share it. But, I had just recently listened to a clip from Derek Silvers’ TED Talk on the TED Radio Hour podcast, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea that maybe if I kept the goal to myself, I might actually be more likely to follow through. (I recommend watching Derek Sivers’ TED Talk now before you continue reading so you get the full background— it’s only 3 minutes long).

So I kept my mouth shut and started writing down my ideas instead. I spent a solid month or so brainstorming the blog: first coming up with potential post formats, then brainstorming more specific topic ideas, and finally putting together a rough schedule for the first month or so. I was so excited that I nearly slipped up and mentioned it to a few friends — but I caught myself in time to just call it a “new personal project” that I couldn’t share the details of until it was further along.

A couple of weeks ago, I set up a WordPress site and started drafting a few posts. The temptation to share became really hard to resist, so I let myself tell a couple of people to gauge if the idea for the blog was even any good. I tried to keep the details to a minimum. Once I set a launch date, I really couldn’t contain my excitement, and I have to admit that I told a few more friends about the goal in more detail. Then I started to get cold feet and wonder if I was really going to have the motivation to keep such a big project up.

When I sat down to write this post, I finally watched Derek Silvers’ full TED Talk. I heard him reference the NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer, so I did some digging into Gollwitzer’s research to learn more. I had a bit of a lightbulb moment when reading an article about “goal intentions” vs. “ implementation intentions” — the difference being basically “I intend to start a blog” vs. “I intend to start a blog about health and happiness on Tuesday, January 26, 2016 with the plan of posting via WordPress at least once a week”. Gollwitzer’s point about goal intentions vs. implementation intentions is that I am more likely to follow through on the latter because I have a concrete plan.

Gollwitzer also writes about the idea of getting a sense of false completion and premature gratification when you share identity-related ideas with others (for the dense explanation, read this article about what happens when intentions go public). In my case with this blog, that idea was very relevant. When I mentioned my vague “new personal project”, it revealed nothing about my identity, and I was able to stay very motivated (partially because I wanted to be able to share the full idea!). But when I shared more details about the project and revealed how it shapes my identity as a writer, I suddenly felt more overwhelmed and my commitment to the project was tested.

Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut after that and was able to spend another week or so working hard on preparing for my blog launch. In retrospect, I have to say that I think the tip worked pretty well for me. Had I shared all of my ideas out loud with friends when I first had them, I bet I would have been much less likely to write them down and start some real planning.

So next time you’re excited about a big goal and you want to share your idea with others — consider keeping it to yourself for a little while. Instead, focus your energy on how you’re actually going to make it happen. If we all spent a little less time bragging about what we are going to do and a little more time focused internally on how we plan to achieve our goals, I bet we’d be a little more productive and self-confident, and probably, a little happier.

Every Monday, I will post a new tip to help improve your wellbeing. I encourage you to give the tip a try in your own life and let me know how it went!

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