When you tell people your goals you don’t achieve them

I’ve made this point before, years and years ago. But I couldn’t find where I wrote it. So here it is again.

There’s a lot of reasons you shouldn’t tell people your idea. They might not like it. They might like it and steal it. They might convince you it’s a bad idea. They might convince you to change it into something else.

The biggest reason to keep your goal a secret is that once you start talking about something you’re going to do you don’t have to do it. In your mind you will have already done it. Their positive reaction to your idea is the reward. Actually doing the work seems stupid at that point. There’s no big prize at the end of actually doing it because it’ll be exactly what everyone expected. Which means you probably won’t do it.

And then it reflects badly on you. Next time you have an idea people will be slightly less enthusiastic because none of you ideas ever turn into anything. They’re just ideas.

Much better to get your head down and then show them your idea. More work for a bigger pay off.

17 thoughts on “When you tell people your goals you don’t achieve them

  1. I can’t put into words just how true this has been for me over the last couple of years. I can think of numerous projects that I talked about prior to working on them and they’ve never been realised, in part because (as you mention) I’ve already had the ego stroking of “that’s a great idea!” but also out of fear of being unable to meet expectations.

    Of the projects that I got to 75% completion *before* mentioning them to anyone, 100% have been completed, because by that point it’s not an idea, it’s a product, it’s mine, I built it for myself so I don’t care if someone likes it or not, it’s no longer motivated by the feedback of others, it’s motivated by my own desire for it to exist.

    This is my new favourite blog post, never has a blog post been this accurate.

  2. I remember you posting that, and i honestly took it to heart, and try to live by it. I decided i wanted to turbo my car, but instead of posting to everyone about it and what i was doing on facepunch, i just quietly kept it to myself and talked with friends about my progress in real life. I wen’t through with what was once a dream for me, and love it. It also felt good finally getting to post it on the forums, and having people compliment my accomplishment. I’ve been a part of facepunch, and your blog since 2005, and have learned a lot of morals from you. It’s been inspirational watching you go from making a mod for fun living with your parents, to where you are now.

    I wish you a happy future, and good luck with you kid! It seems so surreal that you’re where you are now, and having a baby. Time really does fly. One day i was a 12 year old catching flack from all the ‘cool’ facepunch members, just for being a ‘stupid kid’ trying to fit in. Now i’m almost 20 with my own adult life starting to take shape, and i look forward to what the future holds for me.

  3. I would have to disagree, over the last few years i have come up with projects. I tell my friends and family, and however skeptical they may be they still motivate me to peruse my idea. it helps me achieve my goal ultimately.

  4. There are multiple reasons why someone might tell another of an idea they had, only some of which are related to the above phenomenon. Those reasons are either selfish or unselfish.

    The most common reason someone might tell someone their goals is to boast, to boost their ego and show other people they have the ability to come up with ideas, regardless of what those ideas are. You tell someone to get gratification, praise or respect, not to further the realisation of the idea itself. Once gratification has been achieved, indeed, there is less gratification to achieve by realising the idea. But the motive for having the idea was never to realise it, it was to prove your intellectual worth to another, which is of course pathetic. I do it often and I’ve achieved little from it.

    We all want credit for our work, that’s normal, but the distinction between those who can realise their ideas or just want to own ideas lies in how much they rely on them for self-affirmation. Think Thomas Edison vs Nikola Tesla. Which one wanted to benefit others more than themselves?

    Whether or not someone can have both selfish and unselfish motives, I don’t know. Most cases of creativity certainly fall into either category.

  5. The first article I read after this one was called “On having an ambitious vision” by Aras Pranckevičius, and it was about a statement Joachim Ante made several years ago:

    “I want to make it so that whenever anyone starts making a game, Unity will be their first choice of tech.”

    Interesting contrast.

  6. Never thought of it like that. But now that I do, this is certainly the most true/helpful thing I’ve read on your blog. Other than the piss shake, that was helpful too.

  7. The blog post frightens me, because normally I always talk about what I want to achieve. And I’ve always set myself high goals. But now it makes me think if it is really such a good idea talking about my goals…

  8. I have been a victim for the last 4years of my productive life to be fruitless bcos I kept telling the people close to me about my plans & never realised any except my marriage that was almost cancelled for several reason’s. I totally agree with this fact, you hardly know the heart of the person listening to your plans, many wish to be in your shoes and might do anything to see you don’t achieve it. Sometimes I cry over telling them and remaining unsuccessful for good 4years. Now that I made up my mind to keep things to myself b4 telling it out am making progress little by little. To as many as didt agree u are lucky having the Right folks beside you, it’s a rare gift. My wife has been a good Motivation and am aspiring more each day.

  9. What about idea “Sink your ships”, so you will have no escape anyway?

    The extreme opposite of your idea, you tell everyone and everything your idea, and at same time you sinked your ships.. if you don’t execute idea, everyone will think you are liar and a fraud :).

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