This morning I watched a TED Talk by the bright and enthusiastic (at least from this one talk) Derek Sivers. Like every other TED talk I’ve watched, it spoke very immediately to a practise that I’ve been guilty of, but never quite realised I was doing: telling people my goals and then completely failing to achieve them.
According to Sivers (and psychological research stretching back to the 1920s) the act of telling people about something you are planning to do greatly decreases the chance of you doing it. The reason is simple once you think about it. By telling people what you are planning to do, you are already receiving some positive social feedback regarding that activity. Your friends are already enthusiastic and congratulatory*: “Wow, that’s great/good on you/good luck!” Some of the satisfaction in being recognised as a success by your peers has already been transferred to you, and you feel less inclined to actually do whatever it was you’ve planned.
While Sivers’ example is that of, say, losing weight, I think it applies equally to creative projects. While I acknowledge that the support of a writing group or artistic collective can be a great thing (my own output has certainly increased since joining one), it can also be dangerous in that here are people that really want to hear your ideas**. They want to see you succeed, and spilling the beans can be awfully tempting. I recently did something really dumb: I had two seeds of stories half-drafted for Twelfth Planet Press’ Speakeasy anthology and I announced this fact at my writing group, and then again on Twitter. Congratulations and admiration all ‘round, except then I didn’t feel like finishing them. There was no real reason why at the time, just a sudden lack of motivation. I’m fairly certain that what I experienced was exactly what Sivers is talking about, and looking back I can see a lot of points in time where I’ve boasted things and then failed to follow through. Conversely, recent occasions where I have decided to do something and just got on with it have proved to be very fruitful (the most recent examples of which I can’t tell you about, as they are ongoing and I don’t want to jinx myself).
So in the future, I’m going to try and maintain a balance in my goal-setting. I’m going to get as far as I can on the back of my own motivation, and if I run out of steam that way, I can always rely on my friends and peers to give me a pick-me-up (or a ‘put this down and walk away’, if it’s truly awful).
Oh, wait. Damn it! |:
*If your friends aren’t dicks.
**Again, if your peers aren’t arseholes.