Why Writing Down Goals Increases Your Chances Of Achieving Them

We hear about the importance of goal setting all of the time, but what we don’t talk about is how vital it is to actually write our goals down.

As Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland says, “Any road will get you there, if you don’t know where you are going.”

In the case of goal setting, if you want to reach your destination then you need to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. That’s where writing your goals down comes in.

Most of us go through life without ever writing down goals, then again most of us go through life not actually achieving our goals either. So is there actually a correlation between writing your goals down and achieving more or is that just a myth?

According to a study conducted by researcher Gail Matthews at Dominican University, those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not.

In this study of soon to be Harvard graduates, only 3 percent had specific written goals for their future, 13 percent had goals in their mind but not written anywhere and 84 percent had no goals at all. Twenty years later the study found that the same 3 percent were earning an average of 10 times more than the members with no clear goals. That’s crazy!

Another study out of Scotland, which you can find in The Power of Habit, focused on patients with an average age of 86 and participating in a rehabilitation program after recovering from hip or knee operations. Here’s what the study found:

“The patients who had written plans in their booklets had started walking almost twice as fast as the ones who had not. They had started getting in and out of their chairs, unassisted, almost three times as fast. They were putting on their shoes, doing the laundry, and making themselves meals quicker than the patients who hadn’t scribbled out goals ahead of time.”

Shark Tank investor Daymond John, author and CEO of the clothing line FUBU, has been pretty public over the years about his beliefs on the power of writing down your goals. As a 16 year old kid when most of us are struggling to choose our clothes for school the next day, Daymond was crafting a list of 10 goals, each having their own deadlines ranging from 5 months to 20 years.

So why did Daymond find it so valuable to document his goals? “I read them every night before I go to bed, so it’s the last thing I think about,” he says. “And I read them every morning when I wake up.” It’s safe to say that for Daymond, this approached proved to be successful.

It seems pretty clear that there is a direct link between writing your goals down and a higher success rate of achieving them, but why?

If you look at the Scottish study of patients recovering from significant surgeries, psychologists found one thing in common with patients who wrote their plans down. They found that the plans these patients kept also focused on how the patients would handle anticipated pain.

In other words, patients were keeping track of the causes of their pain, such as getting up from the couch, and crafting detailed plans for dealing with it. By documenting the obstacles they might encounter, they were able to come up with solutions ahead of time to avoid their pain.

You don’t need to have a hip replacement in order to reap the benefits from this study. The same methods can be applied to any goals you set. Just as the patients were planning how they were going to make it past the obstacles they faced, you can use the same strategies to push past your challenges.

When you tell someone you’re unhappy at work and plan on moving on to a new job within the next six months. What happens?

Normally, you might spruce up your resume within the first week, take a peek at some jobs online and then the urge to move on dissipates. You realize you’ll have to go on interviews, it’ll be a new culture, a different commute, etc. You fill your mind with excuses and as a result, six months will pass and you’ll be in the same position.

But when you write that goal down on a piece of paper and place a deadline next to it – things change. Any doubts you have become steps with shorter deadlines. For example, you’ll have “update resume” with a two week timeline next to it or “practice interview skills” with a one month timeline next to it. By writing down your goals you’re able to refer to them when in doubt. And instead of forgetting the goal altogether, you’ll figure out methods to overcome your obstacles.

In short, the key is to write down your goals, set deadlines, and review them frequently. When you write your goals down and view them often – hopefully daily like Daymond – you’re more likely to achieve them because they’re always going to be on your mind.

If you want to take this a step further: write your goals down on a piece of paper and put that paper on your mirror so you can see it every night before bed and first thing in the morning.