How To Achieve Your Goals – But Don’t Tell Anyone This Secret

nivenI have let myself down badly- again. I look in the mirror and shake my head in dismay. How could you do this Chris? And then I read the answer… in the autobiography of a British Hollywood actor of old. It’s a wake up call, for me, and for you – perhaps. Here it is.

David Niven is long dead. His autobiography, “The Moon Is A Balloon,” was a gem to read en route to Los Angeles and with Hollywood to be explored. He tells about time spent with Winston Churchill during the gloomy early days of the Second World War. Churchill kept reassuring Niven about “…when the Americans join us…” Suddenly, Pearl Harbor happened, and the Americans joined the Allies in the war effort. “How did you know this would happen?” an incredulous Niven asked the great man. “Because, my boy, I am a great student of history.” Point is, Churchill knew reluctant bystanders usually get drawn in to the conflict. History predicted it.

And in that statement I suddenly realized why I keep failing, time and again, on some simple personal goals. Here’s why.

First, because I am insane. I actually believe that by doing the same thing over and over again, I’ll get a different outcome.

Fact is, I need to be student of history. If the way I did it failed in the past, why the hell should it succeed now? History suggests the way I go about achieving certain personal goals is deeply flawed.

In this instance, it’s about weight loss and fitness. Here’s the sad story. I had a health scare 7 months ago and committed to getting fit and dropping weight.

Mistake Number One: I Did What I Always Do

Off I went on a massive ‘campaign’, of diet and particularly, exercise, brutalizing myself to achieve certain goals per week, writing down every session, graphs, heart monitors, things that go ‘beep’, the works.

The weight dropped off, as it usually does. 12 kilos gone in five months. 10 more kilos to go. I was feeling great, looking good and loving the feedback!. “Wow- Chris- you’re well on your way to achieving your goals. WELL DONE!!” Then we were in Asia. We exercised daily. The last day we were at a conference in rural Thailand. It does not get hotter or more humid. During the lunch break, I ran for an hour. Madness. Flew home. Fell sick. Off color and no exercise for three weeks. Fell out of the habit. Got depressed by it. Ate and drank. 9 kilos back on. In just 8 weeks!

Mistake Number Two: I Shared My Goal Far and Wide

And this is the mistake (and insight) I just learnt about, via a TED video of a guy who said this: “To achieve your goals, don’t tell anyone about them.” I have always believed the opposite. If I tell those around me, then they hold me kind of accountable to delivering. Not true, says the research. Those who share their goals feel an almost instant sense of having achieved part of the journey. As people start giving them encouragement and feedback, they feel they are well on their way. And then it is easier to convince yourself to ease up as: “I am basically there.”

Rather, says the research, keep goals totally private. Only tell yourself. And then quietly work away on them until you have achieved your goal.

So, two lessons from a once again failed, or should I say ‘stalled’, fitness and weight loss campaign:

1. Learn from history– if the way you go about it has not worked in the past, why the hell will it work now.

2. Keep your goals to yourself– write down the goal, and a deadline you want to achieve it by, make a long list of everything you need to do to achieve it, develop a prioritized plan, and get on with it. But only tell yourself.

Question For You

But what the hell do I know. I have a track record of failure on this one. So I ask for your help. How do you go about achieving your goals? When you have succeeded, how and why have you succeeded? When you have failed, why? I’d appreciate your help. There MUST be better ways.

Meanwhile, I am setting myself some new goals. Want to know what they are? Send me an email and I’ll tell you…. (Just kidding- I’ll tell you in a year!).


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32 Responses to How To Achieve Your Goals – But Don’t Tell Anyone This Secret

  1. Clare May 8, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Hi Chris

    I always used to think it was some weird magic that I had – if I told people about something I wanted to do, it didn’t happen. If I told no-one, it more often happened.

    I think that by telling people you place too much pressure on yourself, it gets too hard, and then it’s overwhelming.

    In my experience, people in our sorts of jobs always want great results, fast! That so we jump in headliong in a way that isn’t sustainable.
    I’ve learnt the hard way, that sensible, moderate changes to exercise and eating will deliver results eventually. Also, I read the book “French Women Don’t Get Fat”, which expounded the idea of quality foods, but less of them, walking everywhere possible, overall healthy eating but allowing induglence too.

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 3:58 am #

      Thanks Clare- appreciated!

    • Andrew Thomas May 9, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

      It really depends but if you really persevere and not mind what people say despite after telling them your goals may yield better results. Anyway, everything is a learning experience. So, you dont have to worry. Just by the thought that you continuously improve yourself means you are doing your best. You are part of a certain elite group of people already. you can’t imagine how many people who dont dream or improve anymore

  2. John Skinner / Catalyst May 8, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Hi Chris,

    Very interesting perspective about keeping your personal goals to yourself. So I quickly Googled the topic and selected

    One of the key definitions was “Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision of this future into reality”.

    The fact that this sentence includes “your” or “yourself” THREE times, seems to confirm that it involves a very personal and internal process – probably best not inflicted on others

    Cheers, John S.

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 3:59 am #

      Thanks John- I will look it up. Chris

  3. Madeleine May 8, 2013 at 10:54 am #

    My small tip would be to break your goals down in to more manageable but still slightly challenging goals.

    I found that when I wanted to get healthy instead of aiming for the 20+ kilos that privately I knew I wanted to shed I broke it down to 5 kilo chunks and instead of trying to make that happen in a 5 week window I made my time goal more like 6 months. I also decided to cut myself a little slack in that over that six month period I knew that there would be events that meant I wouldn’t be able to be quite as virtuous as I might have liked but so long as over the total time period my weight was trending down then I was achieving my goal.

    I still have a way to go but 3 years after I started my goal I can say that I am definitely a fitter healthier me than when I started.

    Good luck.

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:00 am #

      Madeleine- sound advice. Thank you.

  4. Gordon May 8, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    Interesting Chris, and as always, inspirational.

    I happened to read your post in the middle of writing up my career goals as part of my annual review. Perhaps HR managers need to ask employees to create career goals they don’t share?

    BTW, here’s the link to the TED talk you mentioned:

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:01 am #

      Gordon- appreciate the feedback and thanks for the link! Chris

  5. Amanda Little May 8, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Hi Chris

    It is reality of, dare I say, mature years in sedentary occupations that we move less, eat more and decline in muscle mass (lowering our metabolism). I have a similar story of losing weight last year only then to relax during a holiday in France and you can guess the rest. I like being slim, my clothes fit me and I have more energy.

    I find it is important to be prepared (buy a pedometer, have the right food available), have a positive goal (ironically it was for me being a certain weight to go to France) and to get support (I started the Dukan Diet- albeit modified – with a friend and we were both very successful).

    The nut I am yet to crack is building muscle mass. I have had young personal trainers dont really understand an older body and I’ve a series fo injuries as a result. So if you know of any ‘mature’ PTs, let me know!

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:02 am #

      Hi Amanda- good to hear from you! Thanks for the story. It’;s helpful. Chris

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:03 am #

      Thanks Amanda- appreciated and good to hear from you!

  6. PM May 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I went the same way as you, managed to lose 20 kilos but have remained at a plateau for the past six months – still have about 20 to go. The more I talked about my success so far and how I had achieved my first main goal, the more I ended up slacking off. I’m now at the point where my exercise is zero and my diet is questionable.
    Let me know if anything sticks for you because I definitely need the help!

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:04 am #

      PM- I am with you all the way! Keep the faith.

  7. Sarah May 8, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    I am intrigued by the 2nd point. I too have always been told to share my goals to make myself accountable. I tend to do that with health related things, but career wise, I have always kept them pretty secret. The only time I haven’t was when a friend and I had a lot of wine and wrote down our career and life goals on the back of the restaurant docket with our targeted timeline, expanding out 5-8 years – both she and I were extremely honest due to the wine! We did this 3 years ago and it is fun to catch up and tick goals off the list if/when we succeed, but we still don’t tell anyone else! It’s our secret on the docket!

    In terms of sticking to fitness related goals, the thing I find best is that I am extremely competitive. I work to this, and have weekly “weigh ins” (Biggest Loser style) scheduled with the health guy at work, always aiming to beat my results from the previous week. I also challenge myself to improve at different fun runs. I enter a new fun run every couple of months, and then I have something to aim for, ie. a time or distance to beat, and lots of other people around me who, unbeknownst to them, I compete against! Along with making my initial goals SMART, I find this is helping me achieve what I want, after many previous failures. If you are competitive, perhaps that type of thing will help you too? I have found there are lots of blogs and social media forums that help out and support women on their road to health/fitness success but I must say, I’ve not seen the same sort of thing for men.

    One thing I have learnt though, make sure some cheat time is scheduled in once a week too – it is completely unrealistic to cut out all vices like a glass (or bottle) of red wine, or takeaway pizza, or a piece/block of chocolate!!! Good luck, it’s a long hard road!

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:06 am #

      Sarah- thanks for these tips. I really like the weekly weigh in idea. i respond to being ‘measured’! And the SMART goal idea. Tahnk you. i wil give them both a go.

      • Sarah May 14, 2013 at 9:02 am #

        My work has just let us join the Global Corporate Challenge. It builds on the healthy workplace, challenges employees to work as a team to encourage each other to hit 10000 steps a day, and it includes a tool for you to set your goals and tracks against them! Starting date is 23 May for 12 weeks!

  8. Justin Di Lollo May 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm #

    I’m just annoyed I didn’t get an indulgent lunch in with you to contribute to that nine kilos. I guess it’s a demineralised water and carrot stick when we next catch up!?

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:07 am #

      Not even the carrot stick…too many carbs.

  9. Caro May 8, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

    Thanks Chris for your sharing.

    In my experience, when I really want something, at my core, it happens.

    That’s doesn’t mean everything I ‘want’ happens for me, not at all. As the ‘really want something’ has to be the driver, and the passenger with that is that you take aligned action.

    It’s not the ‘how’ it is going to happen – as how can we know exactly until it has happened?! People can get immobilized or distracted by that. It’s focusing on the ‘what’.

    What do you really want? Really Want?

    And then just getting stuck into it. That I suppose relates to the not needing to tell anyone else, as your focus is on aligned action as you go on the journey to get your result, however that unfolds.

    If it doesn’t happen, then it begs the question of how much did you (as in collective ‘you’) really want it?

    It’s quite common to say we want something, even fool ourselves we do, but our consistent, persistent, never say die, do whatever it takes (without being to the detriment of others or illegal of course) action does not reflect that. As that’s the type of action we must take to get what we ‘really want’.

    It’s also about letting go of timing as well. What’s more important – it happening? Or the time or way it happens?

    My thoughts for consideration 🙂

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:08 am #

      Thanks Caro. I like the thinking. Chris

  10. Margaret La May 8, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    My business coach has an intriguing approach to goal setting. The reasons we do anything in life is always because of the “WHY”. This is one of the most powerful questions we can ask ourselves. If you don’t first work out “WHY” you need to fulfill a goal, then you’ll always come up against obstacles – be it real life, money, time, energy, etc etc.

    So, once you’ve identified your most important goals (whichever area in your life) – sit down, for an hour (however long it takes) – and power down (on paper of course) ALL and every single reason WHY you need to achieve this goal. He actually suggests going for a few hundred or even a thousand reasons! This is not easy – I’ve tried it and it’s a struggle once I get to about 20, you have to dig really deep. Eventually you come up with really stupid reasons just to fill the list – but that’s ok, because anything goes! Nobody sees it but you! (maybe try 2 A4 sheets of lined pages, that’s ave. 38 lines per page….)

    The point is to break through the mental barrier we all have – once you’ve identified every single reason on earth WHY this goal MUST be achieved – there will be absolutely no reason for you to procrastinate anymore. The WHY will be so compelling that you can’t ignore it, and will use it to fuel whatever goals you have. Dig deep and good luck!! Let me know if you try this!

    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:09 am #

      Margaret- thanks. I will give ti a go and write that list. Chris

    • Wendy Cole May 9, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

      Great advice Margaret – thanks for the reminder! I’ve used this approach too and I also find I have to really dig deep after about 20 reasons. Though once I get to 50 reasons I’ve normally ‘broken though’ and ‘magic happens’.
      Chris – from a health perspective have you read Healthy at 100 by John Robbins?

      • Chris Savage May 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

        Wendy- I have not read it but will give it a go. Thanks

  11. alan claire May 8, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Hi Chris,
    I enjoy your writing style it keeps me engaged. Today was an interesting one for me, I work in a “goal centric” environment where goals are public and people are accountable, you posed an interesting question and I think my answer is that you need to consult someone about a goal, get an opinion, is it achievable before you jump into setting unavhievable goals. In my exoerience this works and creates good habits as you have the right conversations with the right people and it can lead you to achievement

    Anyway just my way and it works for me

    Keep up tne great posts



    • Chris Savage May 9, 2013 at 4:10 am #

      Thanks Alan- I will build that into my next effort! Chris

  12. Batch May 12, 2013 at 3:32 am #

    Tony Robbins is also a huge advocate for uncovering the WHY. Everything we do ultimately is driven by our needs which are:
    – Certainty
    – Uncertainty / Variety
    – Significance
    – Connection / Love
    – Growth
    – Contribution

    We all are ultimately afraid that we aren’t good enough and that we won’t be loved.

    Fear of failure is why people often don’t get started or follow through.

    The reason we don’t do the things we think we should is we don’t have enough WHY driving us and we are prioritising one or more needs over another. The why comes want wanting something positive/pleasure or desire to avoid pain. eg Those of us who have reached that NEVER AGAIN moment are locking in massive drive to act to avoid that pain.

    People eat for comfort in times of stress. They get the certainty of short term pleasure. They know if they ate no junk food, went totally healthy and regularly exercised then over the long term they would lose weight and feel great. So why don’t they/we? They often can’t associate the pain coming far in the future (eg cancer) from the immediate payoff of say certainty and significance (eg of smoking cigars).

    Uncovering my own true deeply held WHY’s has been a revelation and an ongoing exercise.

    Our internal conflicts, that voice in your head so to speak, is the imbalance between our core values and how we are prioritising our needs.

    We all build up patterns and habits, yet rarely ask ourselves why we do these things, what the payoff is (re our needs) and are these behaviours congruent with our values.

    We can ALL change anything in an instant. By taking charge of ourselves, by MAKING A DECISION, setting that goal, turning ‘I shoulds’ into ‘I MUST’, taking immediate massive action, changing our STATE (physiology and/or place), changing our FOCUS (we get what we focus on), and our LANGUAGE (change your story… I’m useless at accounting …. vs….I found a great accountant).

    A journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step. Take that step, today. I am.

    • Chris Savage May 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      WOW! Thanks Batch. Much appreciated.

  13. Patrick Looram May 12, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

    Winston Churchill was a very smart man (notwithstanding his inability to control his own weight). But I don’t think his observations about history inevitably repeating itself can be applied at an individual level.

    There is plentiful evidence in anecdote and science that point to the opposite conclusion. That repetition and persistence, even in the face of historical failure, are necessary to develop expertise, capabilities or even seemingly basic skills like language. Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 hours to expertise’ theory and neuroscience’s understanding of the development of neural pathways would argue with Winston on this. So would every great athlete who ever kept practicing and trying to learn even when at the top of their game. Historical failures are not relevant at an individual level.

    Keeping real goals to ourselves has merit. But I think the problem you are describing is a problem of too much positive feedback. Having told the world our observable ‘goal’, we should expect real friends to encourage our valiant efforts. It would be cruel (and potentially career limiting to some of us) to give you the feedback you really need: “Well done so far Chris, but you have a long way to go before you won’t consider yourself as a fat bastard, so keep at it!”. The truth is that no one will ever say this to you but yourself. As you have so eloquently taught very many people: you are your own best source of critical feedback. Don’t deny or spare yourself the feedback you need (and deserve).

    It can also be good to share goals. I just think we need to be careful about which goals are public and which are private. Losing 20lbs might be a good public goal. It’s easily measured by others and it is public by its very nature. But I would say that losing 20lbs should be an outcome of some other more interesting ‘real’ goal that you can pursue with passion. For example, tell yourself you want to experience three times a week the endorphin rush that comes from real exercise. And then make it another goal to revel twice a week in the cleverness of discovering the delight in food that would make your dietitian smile. Make it yours and don’t share it.

    But here is your real problem: You ran for an hour in the mid-day sun of rural Southeast Asia! I saw you running that day! At that time! And I told Mike that it was an insane thing to do.

    We have long had an expression for such insanity in this part of the world “Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”. So now you have a choice: would you preferred to be known in Thailand as ‘The Mad Dog’ or ‘The Englishman’?

  14. Chris Savage May 14, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    Ha! Love it Patrick. Made me laugh. A lot. Either labels are better than Fat Bastard South African Aussie. Thanks for the input. All good. Oh- one more thing. YOU’RE FIRED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Stuart February 7, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    (in relation to exercise).

    Just Start. That’s the hardest bit. Starting. Don’t think about it, just go and do it (if it’s hot, swim. If it’s raining or cool, run. If its dry and you ran yesterday, ride.

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