“Don’t forget to write!” It’s what you say to a person as they’re going away and you’re not sure if or when they’ll be back. I personally imagine Jack and Rose waving to their respective friends and family as they sail away on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. But today, I’m saying it to you, not in hopes of receiving well-penned notes from you but in hopes that you’ll remember to take the time to write down your goals.
Writing down your goals is one of those things that sounds so simplistic that it’s hard to believe there is any value in it. But it’s actually been shown to have a significant impact on your likelihood of bringing a goal into reality. In 2007, Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University in California studied a group of individuals ranging in age from 23 to 72 with varying professions who hailed from all over the world. Participants were grouped into one of five categories and were tasked with the following:
- Group 1: Think about your goals
- Group 2: Write down your goals
- Group 3: Write down goals and create action commitments
- Group 4: Write down goals, create action commitments and send both to a friend
- Group 5: Write down goals, action commitments and progress reports and share all of them with a friend
At the end of the study, individuals were asked to describe what goals they set out to achieve and whether or not they had done so. The desired goals varied tremendously; examples included writing a chapter of a book, updating a website, selling a house, increasing income, getting organized, reducing work anxiety and enhancing life balance. As varied as the objectives were, the results were quite consistent. Those that wrote down their goals consistently reported higher instances of achieving them. In fact, groups with written goals had a 50% higher rate of achievement than those that did not.
So, what do we take from that? “If you write it, it will come?” Not exactly. Writing alone was shown to increase the odds of success but the real magic happened when they had to share those written goals with a friend. This “public commitment” was shown to have a very positive impact on those in Groups 4 and 5.
I would expect that many of you have practiced these things in some form or fashion in your life already. Perhaps you write down the things you need to accomplish when you get to work each morning. Or maybe you have a workout buddy that helps you go to the gym. The only thing different about doing this for all your other goals is actually doing it for all your other goals. It’s taking the time to sit down and think about what you want in life and putting pen to paper. It’s sharing with someone that you want to go on a safari or run in next year’s Flying Pig marathon or retire by the time you’re 55 and then sharing with them how you’re progressing toward those goals.
Your accountability partner can be anyone – a friend, a family member, a coworker, your advisor at TAAG. You might think of us as only pertaining to your financial goals, but if we can help you get a 26.2 sticker on the back of your car, we’re happy to do that, too. Technology can also be a powerful collaborator. Goal tracking services like GoalsOnTrack, Lifetick, Nozbe and Strides are designed with the express purpose of helping people list and achieve goals. I’ve had success using Lifetick, which allows you to input up to 4 goals for free with an unlimited number of steps and reminders per goal. I get email reminders when a goal is approaching its deadline (or when it’s overdue!). When I’ve completed a step towards a goal, I simply log in and check it off. I’ve used it for everything from preparing for vacation to finishing my thesis paper.
If figuring out what you want is the challenge, there is an excellent tool online called the EVOKE® life planning process designed by George Kinder. After registering for free, this exercise walks you through multiple hypothetical scenarios designed to bring to mind what is truly important to you and how you might get there.
None of us want to watch our goals and dreams sail away like Rose and Jack. The good news is that you’re the captain of your ship and it just takes simple things to help you land the things you want in life.