Talking About Your Goals Means You Won't Achieve Them

Expert Derek Sivers says that talking about your goals erodes the motivation that pushes you to achieve them. This same idea is supported by several studies that have been conducted since 1926. In this article, we'll delve into what causes such a curious phenomenon.
Talking About Your Goals Means You Won't Achieve Them
Gema Sánchez Cuevas

Written and verified by the psychologist Gema Sánchez Cuevas.

Last update: 21 February, 2022

Some people view it simply as a bad omen. However, surprisingly, there seems to be evidence to support the idea that talking about your goals means you won’t achieve them. Furthermore, it doesn’t have anything to do with luck or fate or anything along those lines. As a matter of fact, there’s a logical thread connecting these two apparently unrelated things.

Derek Sivers is an entrepreneur and scholar of human behavior. He points out that talking about your goals generally means you won’t achieve them. He bases this claim on various studies. These are works by Kurt Lewin (1926), Wera Mahler (1933), and Peter M. Gollwitzer (1982 and 2009).

Along the same lines, several current studies show that those who make their purposes and projects public, increase the probability that they won’t actually carry them out. However, why does this happen? What does talking about your goals have to do with failing to achieve them?

“If it’s not a hit, switch.”

-Derek Sivers-

A man on a mountain celebrating his success.

Talking about your goals

According to Derek Sivers, the human brain’s functions have some flaws. In fact, neuroscience also points to this conclusion. One of the most important defects is that the brain doesn’t always manage to differentiate fact from fiction. For instance, you might cry watching a sad movie, even though you know it’s not real.

Because of this bias, the brain often confuses saying with doing. This occurs mainly when what you say is extremely emphatic or repetitious. A goal is a visualized wish that you haven’t achieved yet. Nevertheless, the suggestion is there that you have the motivation to achieve it.

However, talking a lot about a goal creates a kind of illusion. As a matter of fact, your brain begins to generate the sensation of having achieved that goal already. It starts to anticipate enjoying the goal’s achievement, which lowers the value of actually reaching the goal. It’s as if you start to feel as if you’ve already reached it.

You might ask why this is a problem. Well, it’s been shown that, in general, people really like to talk about their goals and objectives. They do it because an opportunity to share their hopes and dreams is like an opportunity to live them. In fact, they seem to prefer to build their goals on dreams instead of on reality.

The cause of the phenomenon

However, why does the brain end up creating the illusion of achievement? According to the studies we cited above, it appears this only happens if you talk about your goals with others. Indeed, you can think about them, write them down, turn them over in your mind, or do whatever you want with them, as long as you don’t share them with others.

This is because talking about your goals out loud usually produces feedback. For example, if the other person views your goal as positive, you’ll probably receive recognition from them for merely stating your goal.

You then might start to treat your goal as a given fact, rather than as a proposed action for the future. Furthermore, you’ll start to feel a whole range of sensations when you think about your goal, which actually ends up wearing down your desire to achieve it.

Research shows that talking about your goals means you won't achieve them.

To achieve your goals, don’t talk about them

It’s said that actions speak louder than words. This is true, especially with goals. Indeed, if you talk less and do more, you’ll most likely have higher motivation. In fact, you’ll be preventing your brain from falling into its own trap.

Derek Sivers points out that if your goal produces admiration by others, you’ll feel so grateful, that achieving the goal will become of secondary importance to you. He recommends the following:

  • If you’re going to talk about your goals, only do so using general comments and vague definitions. Don’t mention anything specific until you’ve already achieved it.
  • If you can’t resist the urge to talk about a goal or project, express your ideas in such a way that shows it’s still a future goal. Make it clear that you haven’t yet achieved it. 

Regarding the first recommendation, an example of this would be to say something like: ‘I’m starting some exercise routines to improve my health,’ instead of detailing exactly what your goal is. As for the second, you might say something like this: ‘My goal is to read a book in a month. If we see each other in a month and I haven’t done it, give me a ticking off.’

Why not try it? It would certainly seem that using others in this way to help you reach your goals can be effective!


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kawasaki, G. (2016). El arte de empezar 2.0. Barcelona: Planeta-Deusto.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.