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Stop Talking About What You’re Going to Do (and Just Do It)

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
creativity, featured

strategy vs execution

We find all kinds of reasons to make plans. We make resolutions on December 31, we make goals on/before/by certain milestone birthdays. We use the new school year, the new season, or even just the new day as a reason to enact change in our lives. But there’s an expansive gap between planning to do things and actually doing them. And, according to research, announcing your plans — even just to yourself — might make you less likely to follow through with them.

In his TED Talk on the subject, Derek Sivers explains how telling someone about the things that you’re going to go gives you the same positive feelings as actually completing a plan, which can make you less likely to follow through on plans.


“Any time you have a goal, there are some steps that need to be done to achieve it,” says Derek. “Ideally, you would not be satisfied until you’ve done the work. But when you tell somebody and they acknowledge it, psychologists have found that it’s called a ‘social reality.’ The mind is kind of tricked into thinking it’s already been done.”

This isn’t new research. Lifehacker explains:

“In 1933, W. Mahler found that if a person announced the solution to a problem, and was acknowledged by others, it was now in the brain as a ‘social reality’, even if the solution hadn’t actually been achieved.”

This advice flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which usually explains that telling someone your goals — whether it be to start a business, run a marathon, or just be better about responding to emails — is a good way to ensure that there’s someone to hold you accountable. Even Dr. Phil recommends using this tactic as a way to help people achieve their goals. And in some cases, accountability really can work; the social element of the FitBit, for example, adds a degree of friendly competition, which has been shown to drive individuals toward their goals.

However, if sharing your goals — or even just writing them down for yourself — makes you feel accomplished in and of itself, your drive to complete them may be diminished. And yet, most of the emphasis in mainstream education seems to lie on the importance of planning.

“All too often when we teach strategy to MBAs, 95% of the time is spent on the theory of strategy, while at best 5% is spent on execution. While in the real world, for the majority of people it is the exact opposite,” writes Karl Moore for Forbes. “5%, maybe 10%, is spent on strategy, while 95% is focused on executing our strategy.”

This is true of resources available to creative professionals, as well, says Karl.

“While there are many books that discuss the importance of creating and implementing a strategic plan in order to be successful, there are few out there that truly nail it on the head on how to execute it.”

So how do you get out of the habit of planning and into the habit of executing?

First, don’t throw out the entire idea of planning; building a blueprint for your business (or any plan) can help you ensure that you have the right tools and contacts for whatever you’re doing. However, avoid the trap of letting the plan be centerpiece. Prioritize completion of your plan or goal, and consider only sharing with friends or family once the plan is already underway.

Another good tip? Set small goals which ladder up to your larger goal. Tim Ferriss calls these “easily winnable” goals, and they serve to make an overall goal or plan less daunting.

As CreativeLive CEO Chase Jarvis reminds us frequently, “execution eats strategy for breakfast.” Which is essentially just to say that planning is great, and setting intentions is great — but the difference between wanting to succeed and actually succeeding lies in action.

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.