Why You Need to Write Down Your Goals

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There are several steps to effective goal setting. Once you have a goal in mind, one of the best things you can do is write it down.

In a study by Dr. Gail Matthews, a Psychology professor at the Dominican University in California, she found that if you write down your goals on a regular basis, you are 42% more likely to achieve them. Why? A couple of reasons. The first is external storage, a fancy term for a simple phenomenon. When you write something down, like on a piece of paper or sticky note, it’s easy to access that information. That visual cue serves as a constant reminder of your goal. The second reason is a cognitive process called encoding. Encoding works like this. When you think about your goal, your brain is creating a picture of it in your mind. When you write it down, you’re basically regenerating that image. This double processing helps to impress the goal into your brain. Neuropsychologist call this the generation effect, which means that you remember information better if it’s generated by your own mind, instead of something you merely read.

Here are a few more reasons to write down your goals: clarity, focus, and motivation. Before you write down your goal, you need to decide what it is. You can arrive at that through introspection, brainstorming, and talking with a trusted friend or mentor. Once you’ve clarified what it is you want, be very specific about the words you choose when you write it down. For example, if you want to learn a new skill, don’t just write “learn something new,” write “learn how to use video editing software.” The more specific you can be, the clearer the path toward your goal. Let’s be even more effective. When you write down your goal, be specific and use positive and vivid language. That means going beyond “learn how to use video editing software” to “I will become proficient with the latest video editing software.” Positive language is bold and affirming. Vivid language ignites receptors in your brain. Remember, words have power.

Once you’ve written down a clearly defined goal using specific, positive, and vivid language, you can use that written statement to keep you focused and on track. You can spend your time, energy, and resources on actions that move you towards your goal, and it becomes easier to eliminate distractions. When you take the actions of identifying, clarifying, and writing down your goal, I think you’ll find that it will increase your motivation. You’ll feel a sense of urgency and purpose that will propel you forward towards achieving your goal.