Does Announcing a Resolution Make You More or Less Likely To Keep It?

My recent post, Beware of “decoy habits,” spurred a lot of conversation, and it’s clear to me that the subject is much more complex, and interesting, than I initially realized.

Readers made many thought-provoking comments. One reader pointed to research that suggests that talking about a goal can lead to the false feeling of already having achieved that goal. I’ve seen that research–and I’ve also seen research suggesting that talking about a goal can help you stick to that goal, by making you feel more committed, and also more accountable to the people you’ve told. So it seems to go both ways.

From my own experience–a statistically insignificant yet often helpful data point–this is a point on which people differ. Some do better if they don’t talk it up too much; some do better if they tell others what they want to do.

Exhibit A is my former roommate, who told people that she did yoga, and telling them seemed to convince her that she did, in fact, do yoga. Perhaps discussing it undermined her determination actually to do it.

Exhibit B is my friend who is trying to drink less, who says it’s very helpful to her to announce, “I’m cutting back on my drinking, so I’m only having one glass of wine tonight.” For her, telling people adds an important layer of external accountability.

I’m curious: in your personal experience: Does announcing a resolution make you more likely to keep it, or less likely–or neither?

I don’t think it matters much to me whether I announce it or not–I suspect that’s a result of my Upholder nature.  How about you?

  • mitchell3302

    I am more likely to keep a resolution if I tell my husband or sister, not because they would shame me in any way, but I would feel embarrassed to not follow through on something I said I was going to do.

    • Ruth

      Yes! This is exactly how I approach it. I have weekly check-in emails with friends around goals. Usually, no one else even says anything in response to my check-ins – and there’s certainly no one asking me if I met my goals – but knowing that I’m going to have to check-in and admit to what I did or did not actually do makes me even more likely to do what I need to do to meet my goals.

  • Focusservices

    Depends on what type of person are you.

  • aymlss

    Personally, if I am facing a situation or task difficult enough to enlist the help of others, it matters a great deal who I select as an accountability partner. A naysayer might motivate me more in some situations (I don’t think you can/should run a half-marathon), while a supporter might help me more in other situations (I’m trying to lose weight, so let’s agree to eat somewhere we can get a salad).

  • peninith1

    I have certainly had more success in a group situation with some resolutions. But I just am not SURE what works best for me. I think what is true is that I don’t announce to a lot of people that “I am going to learn to quilt” or “I want to keep a journal.” Both of those are things that other people say they wish to do, but don’t really do. THOSE things, I WANT to do them, and I just go DO them. I wanted to learn to sew and to cook well, to write, and I just did it. Is that the answer? It sure seems that I am much more motivated to cook (and eat!) an interesting dinner than I am to count my carbs or calories. I dislike being an unhealthy weight, but I love everything that leads to that result. I find this whole issue so very frustrating. In the end it seems to boil down to wishing that I really wanted to be a person who didn’t love to eat but did love to exercise–and wishing will never ever make that so..

    • Kate

      You just summed up a LOT of people’s struggles with that “wishing that I really wanted to be a person who didn’t love to eat but did love to exercise”! Mine, certainly!

  • Leah Day

    I really like to share and talk about what I’m interested in, what I’m planning to do, and what changes I want to make in my life. For a long time I struggled with talking about my future plans because so many people were very negative about my plans to start a small business. They seemed to think it was a pipe dream and didn’t want me to get my hopes up.

    So I learned to be very careful about what I talk about and to who. I never get confused about what I do or who I am, but I do find that sharing can seriously damage a resolution or goal I’ve made if I receive a lot of negative feedback.

    • gretchenrubin

      This is a very good point. Wholly apart from whether it makes me more or less likely to keep a resolution, getting a discouraging response really sets me back. I know it shouldn’t, but it often DOES.

  • Guest

    I have always used the logic of ‘tell everyone your goals as quickly as possible because then they might come true’ I fear that I have fallen into that pit of assuming I am closer to the goals than I actually am, simply because I have said them out loud. This leaves me in the position of having lots of goals, being very good at articulating them but not very good at carrying them out. I think I will try the silent perseverance method and see where that gets me. But is it too late as pretty much everyone already knows my goals? Do I need to come up with goals that nobody knows I want because I havn’t said them out loud. Are the goals I told everyone about a lost cause?

  • Cindy

    I’m an upholder too, but I think announcing an intention makes me more likely to do it. Because I take commitments seriously, I make sure I truly intend to do something (or I even start doing it) before announcing it!

  • Lucky Barb

    Yes, announcing a resolution makes me more likely to keep it. It’s as though telling someone is making a commitment to them. If the commitment is to yourself only, you can justify your lack of follow-through easily “no harm done.” But having told someone else, you’ll have a harder time justifying a lack of follow-through. I know that I am very careful about which resolutions I share, because once I share them, I know I’m really committed!

  • http://twitter.com/chasingwb Chasing Well-being

    I do much better when I own up to my goals… In fact, I just wrote a post about it the other day, and included my 2013 personal goals!

  • Jess

    I have always used the logic of ‘tell everyone your goals as quickly as possible because then they might come true’ I fear that I have fallen into that pit of assuming I am closer to the goals than I actually am, simply because I have said them out loud. This leaves me in the position of having lots of goals, being very good at articulating them but not very good at carrying them out. I think I will try the silent perseverance method and see where that gets me. But is it too late as pretty much everyone already knows my goals? Do I need to come up with goals that nobody knows I want because I havn’t said them out loud. Are the goals I told everyone about a lost cause?

    • Leah Day

      I think the best option is to DO what you want to do. Stop talking, start doing. What do you really want?

  • kolagen

    “The fact that I’m silent, does not mean that I have nothing to say.”
    – Jonathan Carroll…

    http://www.kolagenowy.com.pl/

  • peninith1

    sorry to keep popping in, but this is such an endlessly fascinating (and frustrating) subject!
    OK. Here is another aspect. I find it easy to intend, gather resources, and actually carry out resolves in which the process is pleasurable, even if the results are imperfect. I’m like a kid with fingerpaints. I love the dabbling even if the picture is not a great success. I find that success comes with patient repetition and a long-term build-up of skills. I love that process and am willing to give myself to it over and over again.
    But with things where I want the result, but do not really much like the process, the whole thing falls apart very easily. I do not like eating from a limited palette. Exercise really is hard for my aging (aged?) body, and often it hurts. There’s a lot of DISpleasure and willed commitment to displeasure in losing weight and getting fit for me–the natural exultation in a strong youthful body is way in the past for me. My rational mind knows that it is important for my health, my daily enjoyment of my life, and my longevity, to overcome these dis-enthusiasms. Sound like I am trying to talk myself OUT of being fit? Not exactly, just trying to understand why it is so easy for me to strive and be meticulous and dedicated in some areas, and not at all in others!

    • Heidi

      You’ve just described exactly how it is for me (the importance of enjoying the process, rather than focusing on the result). With diet, for example, I do better by remembering how much I love perfectly steamed broccoli and cauliflower, rather than trying to remember that too much candy is bad for me. So the biggest problem is finding time to chop the broccoli. So what kind of things are fun, that you still actually have to make resolutions about?

  • Upbeat Mom

    When I tell people my goals, I feel super “uber” committed to them. I’m very careful about any commitment I make out loud, because it’s almost as if I feel there’s no way out of the commitment after I own it.

  • Holly Anthony

    Accountability is HUGE for me. Telling people really helps keep me on track. Using your list and checking things off also helps me, somehow looking at a list with no check marks helps to keep me on the right path too.

  • Marabeth Duncan

    I have always told people my resolutions, with mixed results. I think in the end, the real determinant of my success is how much I intrinsically WANT to achieve the resolution. That doesn’t mean the success comes easy, but the motivation is certainly a lot easier to come by. I have definitely made some resolutions in my life that were more motivated by my idealistic, perfectionist side than by my realistic, true-to-myself side.

  • Randee Bulla

    I’m leary about sharing my goals because most people I know have reacted in ways I find demotivational and unsupportive. For instance, I was quietly training for an ultra triathlon (Ironman). I was encouraged to talk about it and share my goal so that I could get support from those around me. I found that almost everyone came to me with discouraging remarks on how bad they thought my training would be. I wish that instead of acting in horror and dismay they would have just simply offered a few words of support like they hoped it would go well. In the end, I wish I hadn’t said anything about it as I spend mental energy keeping their voices out of my head when the going gets tough. I’m going to do it, but in spite of most of the people around me.

    • http://www.missrbit.com/ missRBit

      Randee, that’s a shame. I find people can be very judgmental and discouraging about fitness/ athletic goals and resolutions. I don’t understand it. But anyway, good luck with Ironman – it is an incredible achievement to even be a participant so I hope it goes well for you….and don’t let the haters get to you.

    • Veronique

      Randee I find people are funny that way. Sometimes it can be genuine concern and other times because they could never imagine doing something like that themselves or would like to but do not have the commitment or whatever they feel threatened so discourage others who just go for it.

    • Alex

      Randee, that is an incredible goal good luck to you! I find fitness and healthy loving goals to be the ones I don’t get enough support in. I find that their negative thoughts creep in on me when I’m feeling like I haven’t hit my goals, as they are saying I told you so. I found a group of like minded fitness individuals that I tell those goals to now, and just soak up the praise and “wow you look good” comments from friends and family who don’t know how hard I worked for it.
      Good luck and positive thoughts for your training and competition!

    • Randee Bulla

      And here I was sharing a bit of a sour experience, and instead came out of this uplifted. I wasn’t expecting the supportive comments, but am happily grateful for them. Your thoughts will go with me as I continue my journey :)

  • Kristen

    Announcing resolutions is, for me, almost a surefire killer of the resolution. I keep resolutions a secret as long as possible before announcing them because of this. Maybe someday I’ll figure out the psychology behind that.

  • Catseye

    I realized several months ago that the more I talk to other people about what I’m thinking about doing, the less likely I am to do it! The more I work on a goal in secret, the more likely I am to accomplish it. Weird. I know that in the past, I’ve known people that I thought I was close to, that I thought were supportive and caring, usually tell me NOT to go for whatever it was that I wanted. So maybe that’s why I do better when I say little or nothing? To avoid the undermining that I’ve previously experienced? Hmmm… maybe.

  • http://twitter.com/Trevel Trevel

    It’s kind of interesting that in the example, “doing Yoga” makes her look good (and saying she does it is probably all that’s necessary for that, really), so she’s already got near maximum benefit out of yoga just by saying she does it — but for the person saying that she’s cutting back on drinking, she’s essentially calling on the group to hold her accountable to her single drink policy. They may or may not be willing to help, but it helps create a sense of obligation to have only the single drink.

    Contrast, perhaps, with someone who tells her yoga-loving roomates that she’s going to do yoga with them, and someone who tells people they’re only going to have a single drink and then goes to the bar alone. The position of accountability makes a difference.

  • Alexis

    Many years ago I was considering joining Toastmasters to work on my fear of public speaking. I found out when the meetings were, and every week, for nearly a YEAR, I “planned” to go, but always found some reason not to. It wasn’t until I told a friend I was going to go that I actually did. While I would buy my own excuses not to go, I didn’t like the prospect of making excuses to my friend! I’m happy to say that I attended the next meeting and joined the club, and I now actually enjoy public speaking!

  • http://twitter.com/JoshSherin Josh Sherin

    I am always a firm believer in the saying, “A goal without a plan is just a wish,” and I think many people need the support of others in helping them keep their resolutions. As for myself, I have to seriously reflect if this is a goal I truly have, or does it merely just sound nice. If it is something that I truly want to do, and really have as a solid goal, I do tell others about it, so I have to hold myself accountable and not be a hypocrite.

  • Anne

    I would imagine it depends on how obvious it is whether or not you are keeping your resolution at any given moment. So, your friend who announces she will only drink one glass will be monitored whereas your friend who claims yoga won’t at that particular point in time.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good point. I think my friend also announces more broadly…I will ask her!

  • Molly

    Like many others here, I am leery of announcing goals too early, but this might be a comfort level issue rather than an issue of motivational failure. Since I rarely make pronouncements, such as, “I do yoga,” in order to become the kind of person who does yoga, I don’t know what its effect would be on me. I’ve read the research about the connection between such announcements and a false sense of accomplishment, and would love to know more about what exactly is the right thing here. I always found it very difficult to use positive affirmations such as “I am a happy person” to become happy. My whole being resists the belief. I find it much more helpful for me to coax myself along with more reasonable affirmations. For example, I’ve learned to help myself not get mired in frustrations by repeating “This too shall pass.” And, when I find myself feeling like nothing good will ever happen again, I repeat a quote which says, “How often things happen by chance which we dared not hope for,” by Terence (??). The greats are the greatest at lifting my spirits and helping me feel hopeful, and I don’t get that with positive affirmations. I guess they are great, or at least, great quotes, for a reason!

    • Molly

      Sorry, the quote from Terrence should read, “How often things occur by MERE chance which we dared not hope for.” Even more powerful this way, I think!

      • gretchenrubin

        LOVE this quotation.

  • Shannon

    I was just thinking about this! I’ve found out that I’m less likely to stick to a goal/resolution if I share it, it’s like the extra pressure forces me into failure.

  • Maxi

    I never announce a goal unless it is totally unbreakable (in which cased it’s not a goal, right, it’s a fact, like I am getting my car fixed tomorrow) because I hate to “lose face” and look like a jerk in front of my friends if I don’t follow through.

    No use saying other’s opinions of me don’t matter (subject of some post a while back on being a people pleaser); if they didn’t the whole topic of accountability would be meaningless. And for me it never works in a positive way because someone else keeping tabs on my actions would make me want to flee that relationship fast.

    Some years back I relocated for my husband’s job to town where I was initially very unhappy with and told EVERYONE how I was actively looking to move as soon as I could. It took several years but I eventually came to love the place.

    I still meet peole who recall my “goal” and and ask why in the world I am still there. Explaining makes me look at best stupid and I sure wish I had shut up about my “goal”.

  • Veronique

    Yes! Every resolution I have made that I have shared I have kept much better than those I have not. I guess it depends on the individual.

  • http://www.selfication.com/ Patrik Edblad

    For me accountability helps a lot if I announce to people who I deeply care what they think.

  • lynne

    For me it makes more accountable. Putting it out in the universe is best for me.

  • http://www.dawnofchange.com/ Onder Hassan

    I think the better way to phrase a resolution is by saying “My new years ‘habit’ is…”
    Resolutions do not stick, but habits certainly do.
    I know very few people who stick to resolutions after a few days. It’s during the period of the new year where most of the money is made for most gyms due to membership payments, yet very few people commit to going and making it happen. Again it’s all down to poor habits.

  • Exkalibur

    I think your level of engagement with your goals absolutely affects your ability to achieve them. I’ve created a simple image that illustrates this point here: http://pinterest.com/pin/84864774200655071/

  • remonty

    Jostein Gaarder
    “We did not come into the world, but the world is coming to us. Born is to say as much as to get the whole world as a gift”
    http://dsrem-bud.pl/

  • KatieB

    I think I am a Questioner or Upholder – probably a little of both.

    For me, usually keeping a goal to myself makes me more likely to keep it. This is a Questioner behavior because the goal has to come from inside me, not someone else. But, I also think this is related to me being a “process person” rather than “results driven.” If I announce my goal to the world, I am giving the end product all of the power instead of the means in which to get there. For me, if I focus on the process and not the goal itself I get less discouraged and enjoy it more.

    I lost 30 pounds over the course of about 2 years by remembering how much I enjoyed “playing” physically when I was a kid and teenager and trying to find that joy again in movement. That worked much better than focusing on the number on the scale.

    I tell myself a goal of mine is to publish my writing someday. I don’t write. I recently started telling myself that I want to write for 10,000 hours to develop the skill. The jury is still out on whether that approach will work or not.

    I do exhibit some Upholder tendencies as well. I am working on my Master’s degree and want to get straight As. For some reason, when it comes to school the end goal of an A is more important to me than the learning I am supposed to be doing. (And I am a teacher). I do think this was a learned behavior rather than a natural tendency for me. I got rewarded with praise from my parents and teachers from making really good grades. Maybe its because I don’t feel connected to my goal of obtaining a Master’s degree. I am just doing it because it is something I think I should do.

    If we are being authentic and setting goals that really mean something to us personally, why would we need to announce our resolution?

    It is a question (maybe) of extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation.

  • curbyalexander

    I have found I have better success at following through on goals when I get to work and don’t really share the details with people. It is much more gratifying for me to to tell people about something I just did than it is to talk about something I want to do but haven’t started yet. I would much rather spend my time doing.

  • Sian

    I don’t generally share my personal goals, however, there is no denying the power of public accountability. My husband and I decided to take an 8-month adventure and travel the world with our 2 daughters. We started telling people about 5 years before we left, so by the time we had to actually do it (scary to finally buy the tickets and close up life at home), it was too hard to back out…everyone already knew we were going! The public nature of the resolution definitely worked in our favor.

  • http://www.missrbit.com/ missRBit

    I think I am on the fence with this. I love sharing my resolutions sometimes because it definitely makes me feel more accountable and more motivated to stay on track. However, sometimes I keep resolutions to myself because people are judgmental and don’t respect your choices. So I suppose I share and don’t share, depending on what the resolution is about.

  • Angela

    I like to keep it to myself until I know I will actually DO IT (I am an Upholder). I didn’t tell anybody I was giving up smoking until I got to the end of the second day – then I had to keep going because I had jolly well started. So I told people to help me keep going.

  • German Girl

    Talking about it always adds a lot of pressure. For me, it’s much more easy to just do it – voluntarily, for myself, and without having to answer to somebody whether or not I followed my resolutions. This adds a good feeling every time I commit instead of causing a bad conscience every time I don’t.

  • księgowa

    “Sometimes the devil tempts me to believe in God.”
    Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

    http://biurogrodzisk.pl/

  • Boxer

    For me it depends on both the goal I’m sharing and the person I’m sharing it with. If it’s a very important or very personal goal, I may keep it to myself (to avoid that feeling of “I’ve already accomplished this” without having done it yet). But if it’s a goal I have that is important to me but something I know I won’t find enjoyable in the doing of it, I am more likely to share it. However, if I choose to share a goal, I am only more likely to keep it for having shared it with someone whose approval I seek or whose judgment I fear.

  • http://gomiles.wordpress.com/ Miles To Go..

    It gives me strength to keep my resolution going, when I talk about it. It is true though that resolutions tend to work only when planned well (An article my husband wrote on this: http://gomiles.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/do-you-have-a-resolution/). But once it has been planned well, with a logic and a personal goal in mind (instead of just trying to do what others think is cool or noble), then I think talking about publicly helps. Having said that, my resolution for this year (I am 4 months into it already) was not to buy any new clothes this year. With wardrobes full and some clothes not even getting worn enough, I didn’t think it was fair to some other humans that I should keep adding clothes just because stores market well.

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  • http://twitter.com/MrKelly2u Wayne Kelly

    For me, it works best to announce my goals BUT only if the group or person I announce it to is supportive of it and will positively reinforce my decisions and desire to achieve something. For example – finding a group of writers that all want to achieve a wordcount has worked great (we all want the same thing). Telling your drinking buddies that you want to cut back on alcohol is definitely counter-productive!

    Thought provoking post – thanks for sharing.
    Kelly’s Eye – Writing, Music, Life

  • Jude

    Less! Don’t dig up a germenating seed. Until I really cement a new behavior or plan I must keep mum; otherwise, it will loose all momentum. Thanks, Gretchen. Love your work!

    • Jude

      Dang, I didn’t catch my misspell . . .

  • http://twitter.com/ZuriBella Zuri

    Don’t talk about the goal, talk about the concrete small actions you are taking to support the goal, that way you have people who can keep you in check with the practical stuff but you don’t have the pressure of the end result hanging over you and the steps aren’t so huge that they’re overwhelming.

  • camrezabek

    I have to keep my goals private or they lose their magic.

  • Eve

    I just ‘stumbled’ over this article while procrastinating *ahem* … and with me, it’s keeping quiet about a resolution that does the trick!

    (Thank you, Gretchen, for tirelessly pointing out, that (and how!) people are different – e. g. for quite some time I ‘sort of knew’ I was an abstainer, but only really recognized that when I read your articles – most people surrounding me seem to be moderators, and try to show me the ‘error’ of my ways (lol) – even if I don’t seem successful in convincing them, that my way actually works for ME and I do NOT deprived at all, I feel much more sure of myself and MY way of thinking/being now!)