One of the most famous arguments for writing down your goals is the fabled Harvard study. A group of Harvard students was divided into two sections – the first group wrote down their goals, the second did not. As the story goes, the participants were interviewed ten years later to measure their progress towards those goals. The students who wrote down their goals were much more successful than the other group, with 90% of the writers achieving their objectives.
I love this story because it highlights something that I’ve found true in my own life – writing down my annual goals makes me much more likely to achieve them. I have what I want to accomplish outlined, on paper. I can refer to it throughout the year to gauge my progress. I can step it up more in areas that aren’t moving as quickly as I’d like.
Writing down my goals is especially important to me at the beginning of the year when I take a look back at what I accomplished the previous year, and what I want to achieve in the current one. It’s an exercise that both my wife and I have done for a long time. This year, for the first time, my kids got involved in creating their own goal lists. I was surprised by how much they enjoyed the process and by their thoughtfulness.
Lynne, my wife, and I gave the kids some instruction, but mostly they went free range on this one. We just let them know that these are life goals, not simply school goals. So, we encouraged them to think about all the aspects of their lives and go from there.
My oldest son, who is 10-years-old, really went for it with his list. His number one goal? To get a girlfriend. His second goal was to get up to 80lbs. Further down the list, he wrote that he wants to perform well in the talent show that’s coming up later in the year. My 8-year-old put on his list that he wants to take a trip to Hawaii, and he wants to go to a mine with me so we can find precious stones. I was blown away by their creativity and by the meaningfulness of what’s important to them.
As I looked over their handwritten lists, I noticed that so many of their goals were social in nature (get a girlfriend, go on a trip). It seems that kids already know what some adults learn later in life – that the most important goals in life aren’t necessarily the ones that have to do with productivity and professional (or school, in their case) success. What’s equally, if not more, important is nurturing the social relationships we have and making new ones. When I looked at my kids’ goal lists, I was a proud Dad.
I genuinely believe there is something very intentional about putting our goals on paper, particularly at the beginning of the year. One benefit of this practice is that it enables you to plan your year around the major goals you identify. And if you are like me and look back at them throughout the year, you are less likely to let any slip.
Enlisting my kids in the project taught me that goal setting is also a nice way to increase communication in the family. Not only are mom and dad sharing what’s important to them, but the children are communicating their dreams, too.
As for my goals, I focused on the areas of health and wellness, family, social, business and career, and financial. Here are a few of my personal goals for 2018:
- Get 50,000 more copies of my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, into the hands of folks looking for a path towards a fruitful, happy retirement.
- Keep the kids active in the activities they love (basketball, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, piano, and guitar).
- Spring Break trip to the 30A beaches.
- Exercise on my stationary bike 100 times this year.
While it turns out the Harvard study never took place, there has been an actual, recorded study that demonstrates the power of writing down your goals. This research by Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University in California looked at over 250 people from around the world, and from all walks of life. Participants included entrepreneurs, lawyers, bankers, educators, healthcare professionals, and artists.
Like the Harvard study story, Matthews divided the participants into two groups – those who wrote down their goals and dreams, and those who didn’t. Her results were the same as those in the mythical Harvard study.
Those who wrote down their goals and dreams on a regular basis achieved those desires at a significantly higher level than those who did not. In fact, Matthews found that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams by merely writing them down. What’s more, the likelihood that your dreams will become reality increases even more if you share your written goals with someone else.
So, there you have it. If I have one piece of personal advice for you this New Year, it’s to memorialize your goals for the year. By reaching for pen and paper, you’re putting your dreams within reach and setting yourself up for success.