Original post: http://bearlamp.com.au/?p=507&preview=true

It's complicated. And depends on the environment in which you share your goals.

Scenario 1: you post on facebook "This month I want to lose 1kg, I am worried I can't do it - you guys should show me support". Your friends; being the best of aspiring rationalist friends; believe your instructions are thought out and planned, After all your goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely (SMART). In the interest of complying with your request you get 17 likes and 10 comments of "wow awesome" and "you go man" and "that's the way to do it". Even longer ones of, "good planning will help you achieve your goals", and some guy saying how he lost 2 kilos in a month, so 1kg should be easy as cake.

When you read all the posts your brain goes "wow, lost weight like that", "earn't the adoration of my friends for doing the thing", and rewards you dopamine for your social support.  I feel great! So you have a party, eat what you like, relax and enjoy that feeling. One month later you managed to gain a kilo not lose one.

Scenario 2: You post on facebook, "This month I want to lose 2kg (since last month wasn't so great). So all of you better hold me to that, and help me get there". In the interest of complying with you, all your aspiring rationalist friends post things like, "Yea right", "I'll believe it when I see it". "you couldn't do 1kg last month, what makes you think you can do it now?", "I predict he will lose one kilo but then put it back on again. haha", "you're so full of it. You want to lose weight; I expect to see you running with me at 8am 3 times a week". two weeks later someone posts to your wall, "hows the weight loss going? I think you failed already", and two people comment, "I bet he did", and "actually he did come running in the morning".

When you read all the posts your brain goes; "looks like I gotta prove it to them that I can do this, and hey this could be easy if they help me exercise", no dopamine reward because I didn't get the acclaim. After two weeks you are starting to lose track of the initial momentum, the chocolate is starting to move to the front of the cupboard again. When you see the post on your wall you double down; throw out the chocolate so it's not in your temptation, and message the runner that you will be there tomorrow. After a month you actually did it, reporting back to your friends they actually congratulate you for your work; "my predictions were wrong; updating my beliefs", "congratulations", "teach me how you did it"..

Those scenarios were made up, but its designed to show that it depends entirely on the circumstances of your sharing your goals and the atmosphere in which you do it as well as how you treat the events surrounding sharing your goals.

Given that in scenario 2 asking for help yielded an exercise partner, and scenario 1 only yielded encouragement - there is a clear distinction between useful goal-sharing and less-useful goal sharing.

Yes; some goal sharing is ineffective; but some can be effective. Up to you whether you take the effective pathways or not.

Addendum: Treat people's goals the right way; not the wrong way. Make a prediction on what you think will happen then ask them critical questions. If something sounds unrealistic - gently prod them in the direction of being more realistic (emphasis on gentle). (relevant example) "what happens over the xmas silly season when there is going to be lots of food around - how will you avoid putting on weight?", "do you plan to exercise?", "what do you plan to do differently from last month?". DO NOT reward people for not achieving their goals.

Meta: this is a repost from when I wrote it here. Because I otherwise have difficulty searching for it and finding it.

related: http://lesswrong.com/lw/l5y/link_the_problem_with_positive_thinking/

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5 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:25 AM

In addition to the general point losing 1kg isn't a good measuring stick. It's very easy to lose 1kg in weight by reducing the amount of water in your body.

When I was out dancing Salsa intensively and didn't drank when I got home I lost around 0.8kg of weight. I easily got that weight back by drinking again.

Not just the environment in which you share your goals, but also how you suspect you will react to the responses you get.

When reading through these two scenarios, I can just as easily imagine someone reacting in exactly the opposite way. That is, in the first case, thinking "gosh, I didn't know I had so many supportive friends", "I'd better not let them down", and generally getting a self-reinforcing high when making progress.

Conversely, say phase 1 had failed and got the responses stated above. I can imagine someone thinking "hey my friends are a bunch of jerks" and "they're right, I'm probably going to fail again", and then developing a flinch thinking about weight loss, and losing interest in trying.

Certainly - when I describe the environment that is a factor that I assumed fit the label. Thank you for making it explicit.

how you suspect you will react to the responses you get.

yes. this is important and should be known generally.

Sharing goals is definitely a tricky decision, as you note. I think it has even more subtly than your proposed dichotomy, though.

Getting positive feedback just for proposing a goal takes away the positive future reward, but you still have reason to avoid the negative future reward of failing your commitments. Getting negative feedback early gives a positive future reward of showing people up, but this is little better than the future reward would have been anyways and comes hand in hand with an increased fear that your detractors will indeed be right.

Your point about avoiding early and undeserved praise is an important part of maintaining motivations, but I think a better solution would be something like a ring of friends that strongly support goal-achievement and stretch goals as virtuous and frequently check in with each other on incremental progress to incentivize goal-maintenance.

The second group feels like the most punchable people I've seen for December 2016. I don't see why the insults were necessary. I'd imagine a proper response would be something like "What was so bad about last month?". In fact, NONE of them helped, because I can totally see something like one of your characters posting how they'd like to get into Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Oxbridge, and then they get responses like "lol man who you kidding, you're a moron, do you even have a high school diploma?"

(Maybe my first paragraph was missing the point, but really, it felt like such an outlandish and outright silly scenario that I actually laughed when one of those people said they're "updating". Updated my journal..)

Anyway, as far as goals go, less buzzwords (SMART) and more observations. Say you have X goal. Can you build in small increments to achieve a larger goal? Can you name a few things that could prevent you, decrease your chance or even completely disallow you to achieve that goal? What's the opportunity cost of following all those steps for the goal?


Given that in scenario 2 asking for help yielded an exercise partner

Scenario 2 didn't mention an exercise partner, there was that guy that said he did run in the mornings..