Climb A Mountain, Tell No One

Climb A Mountain

What is is about public lists that we like so much?

There’s the aspect of  accountability that’s a big motivator. I’m not sure I would be nearly as motivated to finish things if I didn’t have thousands of people checking in on me every week.

There’s an element of voyeurism. People like to see what other people are trying (and sometimes failing) to do. It’s part of our natural instinct. That’s why people watching is so much fun.

I think there’s an element of pride in there as well. There’s something powerful about speaking your goals into existence and then setting out and making them happen. It feels good (and it should!) – look at what you accomplished! It’s a nice bonus to the feeling of accomplishment you’ve done for yourself.

But, we lose something every time we tell someone about our accomplishments. Every time we do, we give a little piece of that accomplishment away. We trade a little of the accomplishment for a little bit of recognition, a few accolades and a little bit of approval from whoever we tell it to.

This is a pretty easy trap to fall into:

  1. You start by doing impossible things because you want to. It feels good to challenge yourself.
  2. People notice, and congratulate you for your efforts. You feel good that other people approve.
  3. You appreciate the recognition and begin to do more impossible things that feel good to accomplish but also bring more recognition that feels good.
  4. You realize making people happy is a lot easier sometimes than doing impossible things.
  5. If you’re not careful, you start focusing on accolades instead of the impossible and instead of doing things for yourself, you realize you’re doing it for others.

Here’s a 5 second test if you find yourself in that situation: Ask yourself, “If no one was watching, would I still do this?” If the answer is no, you might need to step back and ask yourself why you’re doing all of this in the first place.

I’m all for helping others and being generous, but if you begin to do stuff because of what other people will think/do/say, you’re quickly back to square one of having your life simply being manipulated by your ego and having your actions determined by what you think other people will approve of.

I love accomplishing things. I love doing impossible stuff. I love checking things off my impossible list and I’m not going to stop. But, if I’m not careful, it gets very easy to get caught up in doing more & more things “just because”, instead of doing them because I’m genuinely excited about doing them.

So if you don’t stop completely, the questions becomes, “How do you avoid it?”

Climb A Mountain, Tell No One

Go pick something on your list. Anything.

Go do it.

Struggle through, suck less, get past any obstacles in your way and just freakin’ do it.

And then…do something novel…

Tell No One*.

Don’t tweet about it. Don’t blog about it. Don’t write about it all over facebook.

Don’t tell your girlfriend, your mom, your boss, your brother. Anyone.

Resist the urge to tell somebody about it and gain some ancillary approval. You don’t need it.

Do it for you.

You can run a 5k, jump out of a plane, go bungee jumping, run your first race, learn to juggle, help someone out, learn to play an instrument, or face a lifelong fear. The activity itself doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s personal and meaningful to you and you do it for yourself.

Dont’ worry. I’m going to keep knocking things off the impossible list, one at a time, but I’m working on another list with a few things on it that I’m not going to share. They’re mine :). If you’re in the same place, you should try it. There’s something incredibly motivating about having a few mysteries that you keep all to yourself.

Climb a mountain. Tell No One.

*Obviously, if you’re about to do something dangerous, be safe & tell someone about it. Yes, it’d be cool to get lost in the middle of a desert, get stuck and rescue yourself, but there’s already a movie about it. Also, it’s cooler to have two arms, so be careful.

Do me a favor, share this :)

[Photo Credit]

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  1. says

    Yo Joel!

    The sensation you describe here as “we lose something every time we tell someone about our accomplishments” is what might be called a quiet, subtle formulation of an attachment or addiction to the accomplishment / success / bragging right / resume-builder / credential.

    Naturally we can see how this ensues.

    Our ego (using the definition of the ego as our projected sense of Self; the unconscious narrator of our thoughts and minds that we can’t seem to “turn off” — not so much a sense of pride) develops an even greater sense of identity around these accomplishments.

    Through climbing a mountain and telling no one, you’re humbling your ego and training yourself to not become addicted or attached to these sorts of “impossible” accomplishments.

    This is quite like what I call “leading without followers,” only instead of conquering impossible things, I apply it to leadership :)


    • says

      Humbling your ego. I think almost everyone can benefit from trying that and it definitely applies in leadership just as much (if not more) than it does in doing impossible things.

      Thanks Dave :)

  2. Olivier says

    The follow-up question is: What about yourself?

    Even if you don’t tell anyone, you still “tell” yourself so to speak. So, even then, are you doing it because you enjoy doing it or to prove yourself that you can do it?

    Then, what is the difference between doing it to show somebody else that you can do it and to prove yourself that you can do it?

    Lot of open-ended questions. I unfortunately do not have definite answers for any of them.

    • says

      I think it depends on why you’re doing them in the first place?

      I think there are things that are simply meaningful to people on an individual basis that are good to do. I also don’t think doing something simply to “prove it” to yourself is a bad things…as long as you’re not acting out of a self-perceived deficiency. Make sense?

      Unfortunately there’s a lot of questions and I, like you, don’t claim definitive answers for them. Thanks for the the good thoughts as always Olivier!

  3. says

    Things to think about here. There are some things that I doubt I would have done without people watching, like quitting smoking, because I could have made excuses on my own for another cig with no comeback.

    However, the main message in this post is true. It reminds me of when I was at a ball 3 years ago after finishing my teacher training. My friends and I were taking hundreds of pictures. My husband said to me ‘you’re only taking these for Facebook. They’re all fake and designed for other people, not for you.’ He was right. We’d been falling into the trap of taking pictures specifically with Facebook in mind (and showing off for others), rather than the enjoyment of the moment.

    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. says

    Well…let me be honest. I will always brag about my successes. I know its self centered, but I think we all are naturally.

    Do I take pleasure in the solace of being the only one to know certain accomplishments I have? Certainly. However I enjoy sharing with others my success.

    Mind you I try not to shove it in others faces but I do still enjoy being boosted by other people being interested by my achievements.

    I know I am “supposed” to agree with you and I usually do. However this is one time I desent from what I am “supposed” to say.

    Well wishes kind sir…

    David Damron
    Life Excursion

    • says

      Agree with me or else! :)

      I think it’s totally fine to enjoy the boost of other people’s interest in your projects. I’m just very careful to not over-do it and let their interests be the driving purpose behind it.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment David!

  5. says

    Hi Joellll! I was thinking about this the other day too and how we seek validation for the things we do in our lives by telling others. Climbing a mountain is an extreme example, and maybe that’s worth telling people about… but people do it with really SMALL things too. Like, telling the world that you now only have 14 emails in your inbox like it is a huge accomplishment that is worth sharing. Is that just bragging? Is getting your inbox to 0 messages the new mountaineering? Does everyone need to know about that? Are people with no emails heroes? It seems that a lot of people turn everyday things into “look what I can do” moments. I’d love to hear more about people climbing mountains and less about what people made for dinner.

    • says

      I think it starts with the big stuff and slowly works its way down to the little things. Where climbing mountains was once impossible, we no longer do that and instead of going off to do another impossible thing, we choose the easy way and go after applause. This time, unfortunately, without the major accomplishment of something impossible, so we end up talking about everyday things and try to make them into a “look what I can do” moment.

      I totally agree Jen. More climbing. Less dinner. :)

  6. says

    Every day I do something entirely for myself. Something I really want to do. Something which, perhaps, someone else might really want to do. I keep it to myself.

    It is one of my keys to building Intrinsic Value (one of my personal theses).

  7. says

    Joel – I like a lot of what you are saying here. Especially as someone who writes an entire blog about accomplishing awesome impossible things and then telling people about them.

    But if you were to do these things because you were constantly wondering what people would think and if they’d approve and if they’d admire you more/less, then what’s the point? Even if you are doing epic things, if you are doing them to win people’s affections then you are selling out in a different arena.

    Yet, I don’t think that the sharing is necessarily the bad thing here. Granted, we don’t need to always tell every person every single thing we do. But sharing is how we learn, it is how we grow, it is how we connect. If we all went around holding our greatest accomplishments to ourselves, then we’d be a civilization of automons bumping into each other.

    I think the more important thing is the motivation. Not the “are you motivated enough to do this” motivation, but the REASON. I like very much your litmus test for whether something is worth doing. That, for me, is the takeaway.

    WHY are you doing something? If your reason is solid, then it doesn’t matter if you tell no one or make a Oscar nominated movie about it.

  8. says

    You nailed it! I’ve been thinking of a similar thing lately. I read Sivers post ‘Zip it!’ and he explains how some research indicates that you are less likely to achieve things if you speak about them first. Strange right?

    But its damn true sometimes.

    Highly recommended!

    • says

      I really liked his last paragraph:

      It may seem unnatural to keep your intentions and plans private, but try it. If you do tell a friend, make sure not to say it as a satisfaction (“I’ve joined a gym and bought running shoes. I’m going to do it!”), but as dissatisfaction (“I want to lose 20 pounds, so kick my ass if I don’t, OK?”)

      Great find David. Thanks for sharing :)

  9. says

    I think some things I do so that I can have great stories to tell my grand kids but most things I do for me. I’m pretty independent and do things on my own all the time. There are some things that I’ve done that I didn’t even consider an accomplishment but others have later written big posts about it…which is fine-it was important to them and it wasn’t important to me. But I think this is an interesting challenge; one I’ll think about and see if I can choose an item to do all on my own.

    • says

      I think about stories like gifts that you can give to people. I think doing things for experiences and telling your grandchildren about is one thing. I think it’s another to just tell anyone who will listen on twitter..

  10. says

    Interesting concept here. One major reason why I tell people about my accomplishments is because I want to share my life with the people I care most about. doing things alone is good sometimes, but it tends to get lonely. Life is about the personal relationships that you create and the experiences you share together. I often share my accomplishments for others rather than for myself. I want to show them that they are capable of these things, that they are really not that difficult. Maybe I am just a blabber mouth but keeping a secret is really hard for me especially from people I really care about. I do everything on my list for me, in the hopes that someone else will say hey I can do that too.

    • says

      That’s a great attitude Christina :). I think it’s hard to hold back from sharing some things that are important to you, but the main point of the post isn’t to “not share”, it’s “sharing for the right reason.”

  11. says

    Thought-provoking post.
    (Puts fat red line through entire bucket list…)


    Definitely thought-provoking.
    And I I think telling no one has its place.

    In my case – maybe for some tasks.

    In my case – maybe for a period, not telling anyone about any of my impossible tasks.

    Ultimately, telling people beforehand provides accountability (as you pointed out). And the accolades can serve to spur me on to do the next thing.

    Plus, inspiring others is pretty important to me.

    There’s a season for everything, methinks.

    A time to brag, a time to rag on yourself, and a time to simply enjoy quietly.

    Joel, as you accomplish more and more “impossible” things, you will probably continue to evolve how you think about, and react to, them.

    For folks lower on the “impossibility scale” though, there’s probably more of a need to trumpet and celebrate the attempt (not even conquest) of all things impossible.

    Because it’s such a rare occurrence. :)

    Thanks for the post!


    • says

      Great thoughts. It’s definitely a judgment call and I think there’s a good place for both sharing & keeping quiet. It all depends on your purpose behind it

  12. says

    It is about self confidence you talk. You don’t need approve from other you doing right thing.
    I go to study something what I always wanted, finaly. And I do it for myself, no matter will I work with that or not, or what oter will say. But I am going to DO it.
    And most deeply and beautiful things you don’t share- It is just yours…”we lose something every time we tell someone about our accomplishments”-so true,someone did learn me that :)

    • says

      I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody. – Bill Cosby // <– If you're doing something for yourself and not for the approval of others, you don't even have to worry about that

  13. says

    I think this one definitely applies to my blogging. Anything I write, I feel like it’s got to get posted so people can read it and compliment the thoughts and ideas.

    Problem here is that writing becomes more of a struggle when you are doing it for others and not yourself. I started writing in a little journal. No rules, no guidelines, just the streaming of unregulated thoughts. Whenever I write in that thing it takes all of a couple minutes because my thoughts just flow out.

    It was after reading this post I realized that the reason why is because when I write in my journal I do it for me. No one else. When that is the motivator, writing is easy.

    Thanks for the post Joel.


    • says

      No problem Chris. A journal is a great way to keep writing and still filter out the stuff you need to share & the stuff that’s just for you :). Keep on writing for all the right reasons :).

  14. Iputmynamehere says

    hey Joel, I really love the idea of this and actually have plans to climb a mountain. Nobody knows, at all. The reason is exactly what you wrote, I’m doing it for me, not to prove to the world that I’m better than anyone else, not to impress my girlfriend, (although a wife I’m pretty sure is someone worth telling) and not even to have something over someone else. It’s a confidence thing, I mean really, if you CLIMBED a MOUNTAIN and you don’t need to show it off to people who don’t matter to get approval from people who don’t care, I think that’s amazing.

    • says

      Hey “iputmynamehere” :)

      Have fun climbing the mountain. Don’t end up like Aron Ralston though. If you do something dangerous, you might want to tell “someone!”

      That said, the principle still stands. Do something for yourself once in a while and enjoy the heck out of it.


  1. […] I haven’t seen anybody publish a video where they did 100 straight without even a momentary stall in between pushups (if you have, feel free to prove me wrong). If you’re struggling with a set, extend your arms all the way, take a few breaths, give yourself a mental reset and keep going. As long as you don’t break the pushup position, it still counts (Besides, even if you do break the position, this is your challenge. Do it for yourself and screw what anyone else says.) […]

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