OK... Want to hear a whacky theory that will change the way you view life? Of course you do, that's why you're reading.
It’s a simple idea that I’m going to make even more simple by using cartoons, just like a very serious person would do in a Ph.D. paper. Probably.
Let’s get straight to the point. It’s this:
Dreams and goals have energy.
Let’s call this “potential energy”.
The more specific you get about a goal, the more its potential energy builds. Getting specific about your goals charges them up.
I believe the energy built up in a specific goal is there for a purpose, it is there so we can bring it forth into the world. The idea wants to be born!
That potential energy is to be used for action, turning the goal into a reality – a “thoughts become things” manifestation.
A fully specific goal is a charged up goal… it is desperate to get out of you and become real. It’s a vibrating, energetic force that is trying to burst out into the world, and that’s why it’s so hard not to tell people about it. You’re excited, energised, and it’s got you all shook up.
But if you’re not using that energy for action to make your goals a reality, that stockpiled energy has to come out elsewhere, and the usual way is through your mouth. Not literally, you're not going to be sick, but it is likely you will talk about them.
You will explain to your friends and family over dinner or drinks about this great new business idea you have, the weight loss plan you're thinking about, or the money-making scheme you've conjured up, and suddenly that goal loses energy. It no longer needs to come out, its energy has been depleted, and if anything, it now wants to stay within you, it is no longer ready to brave the real world, it's tired, you used all its energy up blabbering on about it.
I’ve seen and felt this myself — talking about your goals takes away their power, and the inertia goes as their potential energy dissipates into the ether.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a good example we all know well: New year’s resolutions.
Almost nobody sticks to their resolutions, (apparently, they have an 80% failure rate by February!) Why? Because they’re unspecific as hell (no potential energy) and as part of the new year tradition, you tell everyone about them (draining them of energy).
“I’m going to lose weight this year.”
“I’m going to look for a new job.”
“I’m going to start meditating.”
New year’s resolutions are vague promises, broadcast high and wide. It’s the worst combination, the perfect storm for failure.
Here comes the sciencey bit
So far, this article has just been my own whacky theory and some doodles (they're good doodles though, right?), but there is also science to back up these claims.
It’s been shown our brains are easily fooled, the reward mechanisms we get from talking about a goal makes the brain think it has already been achieved. It sort of allows us to tick the ‘done’ box even though we’ve not achieved or done anything.
It’s a similar trick the brain pulls that makes us procrastinate instead of working e.g. tidying your desk and alphabetising your bookshelf will make you feel good because it feels like you’re doing something productive, even if you're not.*
*I’d also hazard a guess this is why social media is so addictive. Scrolling through an ever-changing timeline gives us a dopamine hit and we feel like we’re doing something important and worthwhile.
The more you wax lyrical about your goals, the more it feels good and the more your brain pushes them down the priority list.
If your goal is to become an actor, but all you’ve done in the last month is tell everyone about it, you’ll still feel like you’ve made progress. Crazy but true. You might even get some respect and admiration for your acting plans even though you’ve done fuck all, and that will feel great. The reward mechanism is already kicking in.
See the problem?
Instead, if you get specific about the goal – how to book acting classes, how to put together a showreel, how to find an agent, and so forth — and you don’t broadcast this to all and sundry — you’ll have all this information and excitement in your head with nothing else to do with it but take action.
The goal will be bursting out of you.
Also, as an aside, not telling people your goals feels fun, almost conspiratorial. You have a secret escape plan. Just they wait. No one can see you coming.
"But!" I hear you cry. "What about telling people, so when they doubt you, you can prove them wrong. There's a lot of energy in that."
I agree, it’s true there is some value to proving people wrong, fuelled by the doubt of others, but it requires a negative mindset, one embedded in anger, bitterness, jealousy, and revenge. Because of that alone, I’d argue a specific goal will be much more energising than trying to prove people wrong will ever be.
The best revenge is getting on with your life and being happy, rather than carrying around other people’s judgements. That's a load that will ultimately corrupt you.
"But!" I hear you cry again. "What about telling people for accountability!?"
Accountability is definitely more useful than revenge. This is why discussing and planning your goals with someone in the role of coach or mentor works well. In fact, it works great. I've had two different life/performance coaches and they help greatly with strategy, confidence issues, and so forth.
Coaches are neutral observers, not emotive, cynical, or jealous friends. If you need help with goals, a coach can be an absolute game-changer, they can take that potential energy and help you convert it into effective results whilst troubleshooting when you hit obstacles. Do consider this form of personal development if you’re serious about progress.
Plan and be industrious, just don’t broadcast it to the world.
Let people see your results, not your plans.
Don’t sabotage your progress all because you want to tell people how great you could be. Acta non verba (action not words).
The journey to success isn’t noisy or boastful, it’s quiet consistency behind closed doors.
If you want to crow about your goals, that’s great, it means you’re excited, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but be vigilant where you expend that valuable and precious potential energy, you want to use it as propulsion to launch your dreams into reality, not waste it on hot air because, as I’m sure you already know, if you want to reach your goals, you’re going to need it.