Do you know the secret to accomplishing big dreams and achieving major goals?
Believe it or not, scientific research has been performed on that very subject. Dr. Gail Matthews at Dominican University of California completed a study on why some people reach their goals and others don’t.
She discovered that something very simple could make all the difference: writing down your goals.
Dr. Matthews’ study revealed that people who wrote down their goals were 50% more likely to achieve (or make significant progress on) those ambitions than people with no written goals.
Imagine what you could accomplish if your dreams were 50% more likely to be realized.
Don’t think you have goals? Consider what you yearn to achieve in your marriage, relationships with family & friends, spirituality, health, professional ambitions, finances, home, hobbies and interests, community involvement, and more.
What do you want for yourself in life? For your children?
Organize your garage. Land new clients. Complete a marathon. Live comfortably in retirement. Learn a new language. Nurture your children’s skills.
These are all dreams you may want to reach soon or at some point in the future.
Thirty years ago, Ron Shaich co-founded a little restaurant that became the worldwide phenomenon known today as Panera. In a 2014 interview with Business Insider, Shaich stated that he devotes time every Christmas toward writing down his big goals for the next year.
Today, his business brings in billions of dollars in annual revenue, and he estimates that he gets results on 75% of his written goals.
Whether you want to build a global empire or simply long to finish that project that’s been gathering dust, you can tap into the proven power of a written goal list. If you’ve never created a goal list for yourself or you don’t know how to make it work, follow these 8 steps to success.
1. Create clarity.
“Where do you want to be in five years?”
People tend to face this question across the table from a job interviewer but often forget to ask it of themselves.
Putting pen to paper when it comes to your goals forces to you face the big question – “What do you really want?” Instead of getting caught up in the distractions of life’s daily maintenance tasks, you start thinking long term.
So make a written goal list that answers those questions. Who do you want to be? What do you want your life to look like? What do you want to learn and accomplish?
2. Be accountable to the black and white.
Now you’ve done it. With serious consideration, you’ve written down your goals . . . and they’re staring you in the face.
No longer are your dreams and objectives intangible and unformed ideas. They’re real, and something about writing them down makes you feel accountable to that little piece of paper. After all, it would feel silly to go to the bother of creating your goal list only to ignore or recycle it.
Use that feeling to your advantage!
Don’t shove your list in the back of your sock drawer. Affix it to the front of your fridge. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. Take a picture and make it your phone’s background image!
Set yourself up so that you come face to face with your list of goals at least once a day. Seeing them will remind you to take action in order to make them happen.
3. Stretch yourself just the right amount.
If you’ve written down a goal that you can accomplish in your sleep, erase it right now.
Think bigger! Reach farther. Your goal should give you pause and make you ask yourself, “Is this goal too ambitious for me?”
The trick, of course, is not to overdo it. Your list should make you push yourself but not drive yourself mad with unreasonable expectations.
For example, if everyone in your company gets promoted after 3 years with minimal effort, don’t make that your snooze-worthy objective. Shoot for an ambitious 2-year promotion, but don’t convince yourself that a promotion 1 month in is a viable goal.
4. Establish milestones.
If there’s no end in sight for your goal, you’ll eventually lose steam and give up on it. You need a finish line – one that gets closer with every step and one that you can cross with enthusiasm!
It’s not enough to say you want to be a better parent or succeed in your career. How do you assess your performance relative to those goals?
Get specific. Commit to spending a certain amount of distraction-free, one-on-one time with each of your kids every day. Resolve to hit a sales target or achieve a professional designation this year.
For each goal on your list, give yourself a deadline or a clearly defined milestone.
5. Set your focus.
If you’re a first-time goal-setter or you’re caught up in the excitement of a new year or phase of your life, it’s easy to go goal crazy. With boundless optimism, you diligently transcribe every dream you want to fulfill. Then you become too overwhelmed to start, or you lose heart after spreading yourself too thin.
A mere mortal simply can not apply himself to 20 big goals simultaneously.
So get choosy.
That doesn’t mean erasing goals from your big list – just delaying or downgrading some a bit. Pick 3 to 5 of your biggest and most important dreams for right now. Then throw yourself into your work in achieving those dreams, and see what happens.
6. Weigh your activities against your goals.
We’ve all heard that you can tell who someone is by the friends she has. Likewise, the activities you choose day in and day out say everything about your priorities.
So take a good look. Is the way you’re spending your time meshing with the goals you want to achieve?
Naturally, you can’t devote 100% of your time toward your artistic dreams or career passions. You’ve got long kiddie soccer games to attend, dull monthly reports to generate, or taxes to file. But doesn’t each of those activities fit in with some goal in your life?
You want to be a supportive parent who gives his kids extracurricular opportunities, so you schlep over to the athletic fields every Saturday morning. You want to be respected as a team player at the office, so you use your skills and knowledge to produce necessary reports. You want your family to be financially secure, so you dutifully crunch then numbers and file your taxes every year.
Look closely at everything you do, and see if each task – even the most mundane task – corresponds to a major goal in your life. At the same time, weed out what doesn’t fit. Get off that committee and stop polishing your car every weekend if those activities don’t bring you any closer to your objectives.
7. Make an action plan.
Now that you’ve taken a hard look at the stuff that currently occupies your time, make a plan to insert activities that bring you closer to your chosen set of goals.
If you have a particularly big goal, break it down into manageable sub-goals with individual milestones. Now create a clear, step-by-step action plan for getting from where you are to where you want to be.
Detail each ingredient you’ll need to assemble the vision you’ve created for yourself. Again, write it down! Don’t be afraid of a making a 10- or 20-step list. When you’ve gotten it all down on paper, get started!
8. See how far you’ve come.
One of the most delicious aspects of writing down your goals is the sheer joy of crossing that goal off your list when you’ve achieved it. No one can take away from you the personal pride and satisfaction that comes from propelling yourself across the finish line.
When you’ve tackled a goal – no matter how small – take the time to celebrate!
Rejoice in the journey, and applaud yourself for your achievement. Savor your personal victory.
This article was also published in a recent issue of Vibrant Life.
Has writing down your goals made a difference in your life?