Why you should never advertise your plans

Students talking in a restaurantMy previous blog post on time management was about how to make your plans easier to implement.  It’s great fun to make plans for yourself. You might be so happy about your admirable new intentions that you want to tell someone else about what you’ve decided to do.  After all, if you say out loud that you intend to learn Bayesian statistics, doesn’t that make you more accountable if you get lazy?  Why not say something to your friends over dinner to stop yourself from backing out?

You might want to think twice.  Gollwitzer et al. 2009 presents four experiments suggesting that when you tell people you intend to engage in “identity-relevant activities”, it becomes less likely that you’ll actually follow through with your plans.  If you want to read that long monograph or get comfortable with R, just do it.

The idea is that you engage in activities like these in order to reach identity goals, such as becoming a good student or a scholar.  When you engage in these activities, some of the satisfaction you get from the task comes from making progress towards that goal.   When your engagement in these activities is noticed by people around you, it feels particularly satisfying.  It’s even satisfying if people notice your mere intention to engage.  The problem is that feeling satisfied reduces your drive to get things done.  So when psychology students, for instance, make statements like “I will take my reading assignments more seriously”, they are less likely to do the reading if their statements have an audience (Gollwitzer et al. 2009, 613).

It’s important to note that the effect found in this paper was only seen with those who were keen to attain their identity goals.  That means that Al, who will be happy to just get through the school year, might as well commit to his academic plans in public, but Betty, who is set on getting into grad school, will undermine her efforts if she does the same.

TL;DR Keep quiet about your grand ambitions.  You’ll be more likely to get things done that way.  Plus you’ll stop annoying people.