The new year is finally here and I can’t help but be reminded of my younger self who would be so carefree and excited about it. I was always looking forward to the sumptuous fare I could only get a taste of on special occasions, the family reunions, and of course, the fancy (non-coffee shop-produced) planner mom would get me to write my resolutions and aspirations on.
My goals used to be so simple back then—ace my tests, eat healthier and less of those sweet snacks, earn academic awards by the end of the school year, and keep my room clean, to name a few. Accomplishing them was a piece of cake that I would always find myself saying, “I can’t wait to grow up and achieve bigger things.” Hah, if only I knew.
[The] harsher reality behind these “bigger things” dawned on me as soon as I made moves to make them happen. Facing a great deal of unexpected situations I didn’t know how to deal with, my determination and enthusiasm started to waver.
Fast forward to my mid-teens, the juvenile excitement (albeit less intense) was still there, but my goals had inevitably become more complicated and ambitious. In fact, I already had a clear picture of what my life must look like after high school: Get into my dream university, finish a degree in communication, land a good-paying job, try out things that would propel me out of my comfort zone, and eventually live in style. I was eager to achieve textbook success in the shortest time possible.
But the harsher reality behind these “bigger things” dawned on me as soon as I made moves to make them happen. Facing a great deal of unexpected situations I didn’t know how to deal with, my determination and enthusiasm started to waver.
And so I decided to open them up to my closest circles, ingenuously thinking that having someone to hold me accountable would somehow rekindle my fire and encourage me to fulfill my plans quicker and more effectively. You know those folks that would tweet their screenshot of goals and say “posting for accountability” online? I, in a way, followed the same path. (Yeah, I basically gaslit myself into thinking that success will come easily if I tell everyone about it—and I blame Google for this advice.)
The joke’s on me, though, because several neglected goals and an anxiety diagnosis later, I finally realized that disclosing my aspirations was not the healthiest way to go. In hindsight, making people my go-to outlet for things I wanted to achieve—no matter how big or small—would only cause unnecessary pressure on me, driving me deeper into a hole of stress, disillusionment, and self-doubt.
Trust me, keeping your goals a secret helps
[Here’s] the thing: This “secret” strategy isn’t necessarily a new concept and is already backed by a few studies. For instance, a study by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer suggests that publicizing our goals would most likely result in a false sense of accomplishment, further delaying us from taking action.
It wasn’t until I decided to keep my goals under wraps that I truly felt like I was on the right track. By not letting anyone else in on my plans, I stopped obsessing about what others might think if by chance I didn’t accomplish what I originally set out to do. I’m able to indulge myself without getting distracted by external pressure, expectations, and opinions. And although I believe in my abilities, I’ve become less bent on achieving my goals perfectly—and consequently more satisfied with whatever results I get. This helped me move forward at a way more efficient pace, with me becoming more free to keep going as I see fit.
Admittedly, it wasn’t a cakewalk to keep mum about my goals. At times, it felt like a boulder was slowly building up in my chest whenever I kept silent about something that was supposedly important to me. However, far outweighing the not-so-pretty aftereffects are the good ones, specifically the sense of freedom and happiness that come with not needing validation from others.
But here’s the thing: This “secret” strategy isn’t necessarily a new concept and is already backed by a few studies. For instance, a study by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer suggests that publicizing our goals would most likely result in a false sense of accomplishment, further delaying us from taking action.
Meanwhile, “The Little Book of Talent” by Daniel Coyle also talks about the same thing. “While it’s natural and oh so tempting to want to announce big goals, it’s smarter to keep them to yourself,” an excerpt from the book says. “Telling others about your big goals makes them less likely to happen, because it creates an unconscious payoff—tricking our brains into thinking we’ve already accomplished the goal. Keeping our big goals to ourselves is one of the smartest goals we can set.”
I reckon that most of us will have a similar experience in terms of goals and resolutions. We would dream big and map out an action plan to achieve them, but something would eventually happen that would leave us holding a new outlook—one where we realize that making things work might be harder than we thought.
Now, I’m not saying it’s wrong per se to disclose our goals, but it is important to consider the implications of doing so. Revealing our plans can often come across as a challenge not only to us, but to those people we open up to as well.
Sometimes, we become too focused on what we feel that we forget to consider what they feel about knowing someone else’s aspirations. We could unknowingly be putting pressure on them too, and the last thing we’d want is for them to feel like they have to carry the same expectations, or worse, question their own capabilities and chase the same pace we’re trying to set for ourselves.
So, here’s a better goal-setting strategy
As we officially enter the new year, I reckon that most of us will have a similar experience in terms of goals and resolutions. We would dream big and map out an action plan to achieve them, but something would eventually happen that would leave us holding a new outlook—one where we realize that making things work might be harder than we thought.
Motivating ourselves might be the better way to deal with those unforeseen circumstances, but if you still think that publicizing your goals works better on you than keeping them a secret even after all these justifications, then feel free to do so. At the end of the day, it’s always best to choose whatever floats your boat.
And always remember that beyond these goal-setting strategies, there’s a chance 2023 could unfold the way you want it to with the right set of intentions and actions. Not even tarot cards, a crystal ball, or clairvoyant advice can tell you how the new year would turn out, especially if you put some energy into controlling what you can. Because after all, the most realistic way to make your goals happen is by actually working on them.
An open letter to my naive 18-year-old self
I finally had the guts to call the mental health hotline
Stop beating yourself up if you’re not in your dream school
Art by Yel Sayo