Practice what you preach

#28. How can I document my journey while still keeping my goals to myself?

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Many people talk a lot but don’t do that much. You might know someone like this. You might be someone like this. I have definitely been guilty of this on many occasions.

This is a lot of talk about ‘this great idea I’ve had’ or ‘a new project I’m working on’ but you remember them saying the same thing a few months/years ago and it never happened.

In can be very tempting to do this and it’s not always intentional. Often after coming up with an idea, I feel super-motivated and under-estimate the challenge of actually doing it that when I tell people about it I genuinely believe I’ll get it finished.

Derek Sivers offers a solution: Keep your goals to yourself. In his TED talk he cites a study showing that people who share their goals with others tend to work less hard towards them. There is a small gratifying feeling from telling others which reduces your motivation.

However, this conflicts with other advice; share your work and make yourself accountable to others. How can other you keep you accountable if you don’t tell them?

Writing this blog is a form of accountability. If I am telling other people “ways to be more consistent”, I better be following my own rules and living consistently. But I have noticed that writing about something, such as “taking action when you don’t feel like it”, can decrease the likelihood of me taking such action next time I have the opportunity. I like to think that by and large I do practice what I preach, but by opening up about how I live my life am I making it harder on myself?

Both Austin Kleon and Seth Godin are strong advocates of documenting your ideas and experiments online. They argue that is enables you to think clearly, to progress towards your goals and it creates an opportunity for others to benefit aswell

So how can I balance sharing my ideas, hopes and goals with not succumbing to self-gratification?

Finding the middle ground

Share goals with measurable outcomes that others can observe

The sharing goals problem applies most to identity goals — these are things such as “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to change the world’s perspective on X”. There’s not much benefit from sharing these as you others can’t really hold you accountable. In 5/10/40 years time, you have either done it or you haven’t.

More easily measurable goals, on the other hand, can benefit from the external accountability. For example, Thomas Frank created an an accountability for system for getting out of bed in the morning and has never overslept since. These can be simple or complex, the key thing is that they are measurable.

The decision to share should also be a conscious one. You may feel a rush of excitement when you start a new project and crave to tell someone. Don’t. Only share your goals after thinking through the pros and cons of doing so, and whether sharing will lead to the benefit of accountability.

3 questions to ask before deciding to share

1. Can I think of at least one person who would benefit from reading this?

The person you think of won’t necessarily read it but if you know one person who would benefit chances are there are others. This helps take the focus away from you, which is how it should be — your writing is not about you, it is about the message. If you can’t think of anyone, chances are your motivation to share involves ego-gratification, so avoid it.

2. How many times in the last week have I not embraced the advice I have given?

If you really practice what you preach, the answer to this should be close to zero.

3. Does this article portray me flatteringly, unflatteringly or neither?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t share it if it’s flattering but it is useful to bear in mind. Your work should be an honest reflection of you, which is likely to be a mix of the above. If you find the answer is often ‘flatteringly’ , again you may be falling into the ego-gratification trap.

Actually achieve your goals

A fundamental aspect of ‘practicing what you preach’ is actually achieving the goals you set out to achieve. But this is beyond the scope of this post and has been covered well in numerous blogs, such as these (in order from highest to lowest level of thinking): (why do you have goals?), (what is some psychology behind goals), (raw, goal-achieving tactis).

That being said… please hold me accountable

I will always strive to practice what I preach, and only preach it if I feel I practice it. But I am human.

If you ever think that I am not practicing what I preach, please let me know. I will appreciate it, even I don’t say so at first.


(today I practiced what I preached yesterday and I’m happy with the outcome)

Data Scientist + Junior Doctor in London, Cambridge medicine grad, striving to improve healthcare through technology and education.

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