Test For You

I’ve come to realize over the past few years that public accountability is a powerful thing for me. When I have a goal in mind and I announce it on my blog or tell a bunch of friends, I find I’m far more likely to actually achieve that goal than if I had just kept it to myself.

But then along comes Derek Sivers with a great TED Talk, citing a bunch of research which proves that “telling someone your goals makes them less likely to happen.”

Here’s the talk, just three minutes in length…

I can’t knock what Derek is saying. I’ll give that research the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s all true, that most people are indeed better off keeping their goals to themselves.

But here’s the thing: I’m not most people. I’m not the average or the mean or the majority. I’ve tested for me, as an individual with my own unique set of ever-changing beliefs, values, motivations and circumstances. And as that person, announcing my goals to the world has proven to be a pretty good idea.

But that’s just me. You have to test for you. What works for one person or even a group of people at one time and in one place may not work for you here and now. Or maybe it will. But you can’t ever know for sure until you test for yourself.

A few other examples to illustrate this point:

How to test for you

The only way to find out what works for you is via trial and error. No getting around it. You have to jump in, get your hands dirty, throw a whole bunch of shit at the wall and see what sticks. Keep what works and discard the rest.

You can’t stand there waiting to take action until a sure thing comes along, because there is no sure thing. There’s just what works for some people, and there’s what works for you. The former you can spend all day reading about on the Internet. The latter you can only discover through experimentation.

Question: What works for you that doesn’t work for most people?

UPDATE: Just came across this excellent TED Talk from Tim Harford, where he talks about the value of trial and error, and the curse of what he calls the God Complex.

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    1. Hmm I’d have to say being an all or nothing person is something that works for me and not for everyone. Exercise being one example, either I have to do it every day or I won’t do it at all. 3 days a week might work for some people but not for me and I’ve found this out through trial and error over and over again. And I agree accountability works wonders for me! If I tell my friends I’m going to do something then I HAVE TO do it. Just saying that I’m going to do it puts this big pressure on me to get it done. I didn’t start moving towards my goals and dreams in earnest until I told people about them. I NEED accountability otherwise I lose motivation and fear starts to win more times than me.

      • Ah, all or nothing! I’m like that, too. I don’t like doing things by halves, like exercise and meditation. I try my best to keep those as daily habits, otherwise I end up slipping too much.

        Thanks for the comment, Tracy 🙂

        • Funny! And interesting thought. Can you make à drawing of it too? I right away imagine this world with lots of different colours, communities, shapes, etc it would be fun to make a cartoon of this 🙂 would probably make people over the world feel alot less lonely.

          I do best without too much fuss.. Just slide into yoga classes, visit one and then all of the sudden find myself going for already à year and a half. Or lose half a kilo and then another half..

          I keep my daily goals small until i reach my big goals 🙂

          And most importantly, i’ve always done things my own way, so your ideology works perfect for me!

          Have a Good day 🙂

    2. Well this just gave me the next idea for my next blog post.

      There is no correct path for anything ever.

      There may be proven paths that work for most. There may be movements that create the best chance for most.

      But there are always different ways for different people. Even if they’re in the few and far between.

    3. Oh, one thing I should have mentioned in the post: It’s also important to retest for you. That is, just because a certain approach didn’t work for you when you were 15 doesn’t mean it won’t work for you now. For example, if you tried making a living as a writer 20 years ago and failed miserably, that doesn’t mean you’d have the same outcome if you tried again today. You’re now a different person and the world is a different place, so it’s worth retesting.

    4. As a (former and sometimes-current) researcher, that’s the funny thing about research, is it not? Any time we in our comfy little offices perform a survey with a representative sample, yadda-yadda-yadda, that finds that 68% of people do blah-blah-blah, we’re somehow able to say “People, on average, do blah-blah-blah.” Which is then repeated without the “on average” and just becomes a uniform, general description of what all people do. We all do (or are expected to do) blah-blah-blah. Perhaps I’m just repeating what you wrote in your post, but I think it bears repeating that, just because something works for most, it will never work for everybody. The trick is avoiding just keeping your goals to yourself because that’s what the research says works for most people and instead taking that research and putting it into the body of knowledge that you use to help figure out what works for you as an autonomous agent.

      All that said, you know what works for me? Talking to myself. Any time I have a complicated idea or a conundrum through which I’m trying to work, I put myself in a room (which then becomes, however temporarily, my “Thinking Room”) and talk it out. And before I try to articulate my results to anybody, after talking it out alone, I try to write it, and then I can articulate it.

      • Thanks for the comment, Alex. Funny, I do the same thing with writing as you do with speaking. I’ll literally sit down and write out a conversation to myself, one voice in bold, the other regular. Really helps me figure stuff out.

        And to add to your first point, there’s that saying that the average human being has one testicle and one ovary, but how many people in the world actually fit that description?

      • I find that with situations like this, I sometimes need to hear both sides of the story for it to really click that I should test it for myself.

        As in this “announcing goals publicly” example. When I always heard the “announce goals publicly” advice, I filtered my experiences for evidence supporting that. Hearing only one side of the story lead to confirmation bias. It wasn’t until I heard the other side too that I started noticing both supporting and contradictory evidence for whether announcing goals publicly works for me or not.

    5. I find that self-imposed discipline is the only thing that works for me. When I begin slacking off, there is no end to the downhill ride. Be it exercise, work, whatever…

      Telling other people might work for some, but I think it’s still just a lame substitute for true self-discipline. It seems like a way to motivate yourself indirectly by setting things up so that if you don’t do something you said you’d do, you’ll lose face with the people you told, and using that negative motivation to actually DO it.

      Why not just get disciplined instead?

      • Thanks for the comment, Dean.

        I think you just gotta use whatever works. Some people can be self-disciplined and achieve their goals all by their lonesome, and that’s great. But for others who struggle with that approach, I think it’s smart to give yourself whatever edge you can. Otherwise you could easily get into a rut where you postpone working towards a goal until you feel your self-discipline muscles are strong enough.

        Whether motivation comes directly or indirectly, I believe it’s all good so long as it gets you where you want to go.

    6. One thing that works for me but not for most is going all out when I do something. If I try to maintain balance or do “slow and steady,” usually I get bored before I ever accomplish anything of importance. Writing 38,000+ words in 11 days to create a whole 200+-page relationship workshop, and then taking a week off for WDS–perfect!

    7. I totally agree with the idea of whatever works for each person. Everyone is a unique individual and needs to be celebrated not forced into a mold. It is discouraging and scary to many people when they try to do something that works for most people and then they fail. Lowers self esteem and the will to trust in themselves and try again. I am one of those people who is not the norm and it’s a struggle, whether it’s exercise, work or love. My body chemistry is different, so I can not follow traditional diets and exercise. I have had to develop my own to be successful. I am an artist type at heart and soul and a regular job sucks the life out of me and makes me unhealthy (recently very ill). I am still trying to figure out a way to support myself. Love is a complete mystery to me except for how I feel about my friends, family and grandbaby. I don’t mind so much being single because my life feels full of love already. Not following the norm feels unsettling at first, but eventually you get the hang of it. The hardest part is giving yourself permission to be the way you are and stop trying to change yourself to fit the norm.

    8. Holla for the shout out!!!! Appreciate it!

      This was well written with prime examples.

      One of the things I struggle with is dealing with the differences I have with people I admire (i.e. Leo). After that goal convo at WDS and follow up article with Leo, I am getting better, but I am still learning that we all may have differences and still learn and enjoy the others perspective. It’s just tough!

      Thanks for this great piece!

      David Damron