Why You Should Write Down Your Goals

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you write down your goals? Why should you write down your goals/ How does the simple act of writing down what you want to achieve help you expedite your journey there?

The simple act of writing down your goals can make a huge difference in your commitment to work towards them. When you put down your goals on paper, you increase your interaction with them which makes you more likely to achieve them.

In this article, we’ll discuss the power of writing down your goals and how to do it for maximum impact.

Interact With Your Goals

Studies indicate that increasing your interaction with your goal makes you more likely to achieve it. 

Researchers recruited participants from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia to study the effects of different goal-setting habits. They divided the participants into five groups, asked each participant to set a goal—something they wanted to accomplish in the next four weeks—and gave them one or more techniques to follow while working toward their goal. The table below summarizes which techniques each group of goal setters used and how they fared:

Group 1Group 2Group 3Group 4Group 5
Think about goalsxxxxx
Write goalsxxxx
Write steps to achieve goalsxxx
Send a list of steps to a friend or mentorxx
Provide weekly updates on your goals to your friend or mentorx
% Participants who achieved their goals4356566476

The study showed that the more ways participants engaged with their goal, the more likely they were to achieve it. 

In another study, people who wrote down their goals and reviewed them regularly earned nine times more over the course of their lives than people who didn’t set goals.

In addition to the techniques in the above study, here are five ways to engage with your goals:

1. Read and visualize your goals two or three times per day. As you read a goal, visualize how it will feel to have achieved it. Visualization is a powerful tool to help you realize your goals. Studies have shown that the brain activity for doing an activity and visualizing the activity are the same. The system in your brain that does this is called the reticular activating system (RAS). Regular visualization activates your RAS, makes your goals feel achievable, and motivates you to take steps to get there: It creates a disconnect between your lived reality and what life will be like once you’ve achieved your goal. This disconnect is called “structural tension” and it motivates you to make your reality match your visualizations. For example, use it to speak up more in class, take on more ambitious projects, or other activities that will help you achieve your goal. 

An important note on visualization: Some people see bright, colorful, three-dimensional pictures of their visions, while others just think about how things will be. Both work equally well for activating your RAS and working toward your goals. Principle 10: Expand Your Comfort Zone further discusses using visualization with your affirmations.

2. Write down your most important goal and keep it in your wallet. Every time you open your wallet, you’ll remind yourself of what you’re working toward. 

3. Create a goal book or vision board. Use a journal, notebook, binder, or display board to record your goals. Write each goal at the top of a separate page and write about it in detail below. If you’re artistic, consider making art that represents what achieving your goal will look like. Or, place pictures of things you hope to achieve in the book or on the board. This could include places you want to travel and things you’ll own. Read your goals at least once a day to motivate you to act.

4. Write yourself a check. This strategy could work well if one of your goals is to increase your earnings over time. Make the check out to yourself for the amount of money you’re hoping to get, write what it’s for in the memo line, and mark a future date that you’ll have achieved it. 

Example: Actor Jim Carrey wrote himself a check for $10 million dated five years in the future, motivating himself to expand his acting career. Within five years, he had exceeded his goal, making about $20 million per movie.

Break Your Goals Into Steps

Besides writing down your goal and interacting with it, break it into smaller steps you’ll take to reach it. 

To identify the steps necessary for achieving your goal, ask yourself:

  • What are some things I need to do?
  • Which skills do I need to develop?
  • How much money do I need? How will I save it or raise it?
  • What resources do I need?
  • Whose support or assistance do I need?

There are six main ways to answer these questions:

1. Talk to others. Ask people what steps they took to get where they are now. For example, if you want to become a freelance writer, make appointments with freelance writers you admire and ask them what steps they took to succeed. They can also clue you in on pitfalls to avoid. 

2. Talk to a coach, mentor, or teacher. These people can advise you on how to approach your goal, even if they don’t have specialized experience in the area you’re considering.

3. Volunteer or do an internship. These experiences can help you learn the skills it takes to operate a business or thrive in a chosen career. From there, apply what you learn to achieve your goals.

4. Consult books, manuals, or online courses. Chances are you’re not the first person pursuing this particular goal. Exploring written materials or courses can provide you with a specific sequence of steps to follow. For example, maybe you want to become a graphic designer. Reading a variety of materials on the subject can help you learn the steps.

5. Imagine that you’ve already achieved your goal and imagine the steps in reverse. For example, if your goal was to become a marriage and family therapist, and you’d already achieved it, the steps you’d have taken would include leasing office space, logging hundreds of hours observing therapy sessions to get your counseling license, and earning a degree in psychology or a similar field.

6. Create a mind map. In this instance, mind mapping consists of thinking of every task you’d need to do to achieve your goal, sorting them into categories, and deciding what order you’ll do them in. Here’s how to make one:

  • Write your goal in the middle of a large circle. For example, let’s say you want to earn some money selling gourmet caramel corn during the holidays.
  • Write smaller categories of tasks in circles around the main circle. Connect each one to the main circle with a line. In the caramel corn example, your subcategories of tasks might include Cooking and Marketing.
  • Draw lines or spokes from the category circles and write specific subtasks on each. For example, on spokes extending from the Marketing circle, you might write, “Consult friends and family about business name,” and “Hire Amy Smith to design my business logo.”

Activity: Write 101 Goals

In the book, The Magic of Thinking Big, author David Schwartz suggests that you should write down your goals for your entire life. Making goals you’ll achieve throughout your life rather than just within a short span of time can motivate you to work toward them over the long term. Here’s how to do the activity:

  1. Decide where to write your goals. Options include three-by-five notecards, a single sheet of paper, or a goal book.
  2. Write them in detail. Include when, where, why, how much, and so on.
  3. When you reach your goal, check it off and write “victory.”

Example: Before Lou Holtz became a famous basketball coach at the University of Notre Dame, he read Schwartz’s book and wrote down all of his goals. He came up with 107 goals, which included things like eating dinner at the White House, shooting a hole-in-one golf game, and of course, coaching at Notre Dame. He has now achieved 102 of his goals twice!

Why You Should Write Down Your Goals

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  • The 67 principles to help anyone achieve their goals and dreams
  • Why achieving your goals requires you to invest your time and effort
  • How to take responsibility for your own life

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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