The Power of Writing Down Your Goals

When I was a marketing manager, I wrote ‘Become president’ on my goal list. I didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t become president one day so I didn’t allow myself to think becoming president was too daunting a goal. I just focused on taking whatever baby steps I could take to move in that general direction. I didn’t worry about the path. I focused on the destination.

After I became president, I started doing a lot of public speaking. People often asked me if I had a book. When I said no, they encouraged me to write one. So I wrote ‘Write a book’ on my goal list. It took me more than two years to wrap my head around the idea that I had a story others would want to read. But one Sunday when I was sitting at home I looked at my list and wondered what step I could take towards achieving that goal.

If I wrote a book, I knew I’d need a writer’s help, so I reached out to some of my connections. They put me in touch with some people in publishing. One conversation led to another and I was able to figure out whether to proceed, and if so, what my next steps should be. The point is that if I hadn’t written down that goal, I wouldn’t have a book. It’s that simple.

When I tell people that writing down my goals helped me succeed, they think I’m joking. They figure I must have a deep dark secret and am holding out on them. But I’m not. Making tangible something that is intangible can be an incredibly powerful tool.

In 2015, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson co-authored a study that demonstrated just how powerful a tool. Peterson asked 700 students to engage in a “self-authoring” exercise that required them to think about pivotal moments in their lives that had influenced them and then use that information to help set future goals. The students who did the exercise completed more course credits and were likelier to have stayed in school than the students in the control group, who didn’t do the exercise. What’s more, the goal-setting exercise virtually erased the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap for the students.“The act of writing is more powerful than people think,” Peterson has said. And according a study on the same theme by psychology professor Gail Matthews of Dominican University of California, those who wrote down their goals and sent weekly progress updates to a friend had a much higher success rate than those who kept their goals to themselves. To succeed, you can’t just write down your goals and forget about them. You have to set measurable goals, benchmarks, and celebrate your successes along the way. Writing goals down is the easy part. Realizing them takes perseverance— the same kind you need to stick with an exercise routine.

Case in point: I gained ten pounds with each of my pregnancies so after I gave birth I wrote, ‘Get back in shape’ on my goal list. I pictured myself wearing my favourite dress again, found a fitness buddy, and committed to doing a physical activity three times a week. I didn’t sign up for Cross-Fit. I went for walks. I was disciplined, though. I went three times a week, rain or shine. I stuck to my plan and lost the weight every time.

To this day I record my personal and professional goals and review them a few times a month. I regularly ask myself what’s the one thing I can do today that will move me closer to my goal. That simple routine keeps me focused and prevents me from becoming so consumed by the present moment that I forget to keep my eye on the future. For me, nothing is more gratifying than achieving a goal and getting to cross it off my list. As soon as I reach it, I savor the moment and replace it with another.

It doesn’t matter how big or small your goals are. If you commit to recording them, consistently take baby steps towards making them happen, and let others know about your progress, you’ll have a much better chance of getting where you want to go.