In Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy, he tells a story about college-aged Bo Jackson. To quote Holiday, “The baseball and football great Bo Jackson decided he had two things he wanted to accomplish as an athlete at Auburn: he would win the Heisman Trophy and be taken first in the NFL draft. Do you know who he told? Nobody but his girlfriend.”
In case you’re not familiar with Bo Jackson’s career, he did both of those things and then some. But why didn’t he tell anyone? Well, we will likely never know the real reason, but we can contrast Bo’s deliberate and mature decision to keep his aspirations secret with our tendency to blab our dreams to everyone and come to a conclusion which method is the better long-term option.
What to do When we Have an Idea
All great work has started with an idea. The idea could have arrived at the computer desk, on a walk, or in the shower. We have so many thoughts going through our head that they are hard to keep track of. Some of them are horrible, but one or two might slip through the cracks and show some promise. We might have an idea that could be worth pursuing. Those ideas are worth our contemplation. Just think, Elon Musk got sick of traffic and had the idea to dig a massive hole underneath LA to transport humans much, much faster. That is a fantastic idea.
There is an inherent challenge within any idea. “Will you do anything about this?” This challenge comes and seems to sit in the perfect spot in our mind so that we can’t shake it. We must do something with this promising idea. At this critical juncture, only one response is appropriate: action.
Action is the best option, without a doubt. But there’s a key here that we can extrapolate from Bo Jackson’s college career.
Don’t tell the world your plans.
Resist the temptation to tell others what you want to do, because all it is is mental masturbation. When we tell other people what we’re trying to do, we’re playing with our mind to the point that we begin to believe that we’ve accomplished what we’re telling people. Don’t believe me? Read on.
If you’ve experienced this phenomenon, you know what I’m talking about. Telling others your ideas has an opposite effect on you doing anything about your plan. It doesn’t make sense, but it happens time and time again. Good intentions go to waste as a result of someone sharing their thoughts.
Why does this happen?
Aytekin Tank wrote a great piece on Why you shouldn’t share your goals.
While he makes multiple great points, one I want to focus in on is how people respond to our grand goals.
If you announce that you’re going to attempt to do something audacious on social media, people will flood your mentions and newsfeed with a congratulatory message. If you spend 3 seconds thinking about this, you’ll realize that they have no reason to be congratulating you.
In the desire to support you, they’ve given you a feeling of success you don’t deserve. People congratulate good work. That’s natural. What’s not natural is receiving congratulations before we do anything. But when we receive the congratulatory messages, we start to believe that we’ve done something and suffer massive demotivation as a result. It’s twisted, and it’s not going to end unless you and I stop sharing our goals with others.
Bo Jackson could have told lots of people about his goals. Knowing the legend he was, he probably could have told the world and still won the Heisman and been drafted #1. But he didn’t. He chose not to indulge the dopamine hit that is premature gratification.
You and I have a choice to make. In a world that is continually inviting us to tell it what we are up to, we can choose to give in or hold back. If you give in and tell people what you want to accomplish, you’re going to suffer the demotivation that comes with it, and you’ll have to bury that once-promising thought in the graveyard of wasted ideas.