When Writing Goals Works and When It Doesn’t

When Writing Goals Works and When It Doesn’t

Create a vision.  Write goals.  Write positive outcomes. Make a plan. From a Physics of Business standpoint that’s good advice.  Once you’ve written things down, they are in the physical world, separate from you. They have mass. They can exert a force back on you.  Even so, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  What makes the difference?

Study Shows Statistical Value of Writing Goals

Research definitely shows that writing goals makes them more likely to come true.  A study by Gail Matthews, psychology professor at Dominican University quantifies the significance of written goals in her study , which has been widely quoted such as on Forbes.com  and Fast Company.  Her study showed that “individuals with written goals achieved approximately 50% more of their goals than those without written goals.”

That’s a significant statistic.

Be Specific, Not Restrictive

I’m amazed at how closely the results I create can match the desired results I document. It reminds me of when I played soccer. Our coach told us to aim in a specific location rather than generally at the goal. When your aim was specific, it was more likely to go where you intended it to go. Racquetball was the same. It was better to aim in the lower left corner on the front wall a few inches from the floor than to generally aim at the front wall. Abstract goals work the same way – be as specific as you can.  Clearly define the direction.

Several years ago I wrote a goal for my consulting business:  “(By May 15th) I have a new income stream of at least $X per month established through August.” I’m leaving the amount out but I promise you it was a challenging goal.   On May 1st I received a consulting request for $2000 more per month, to last through August 31st. It was the timeframe I specified, with more income than I had even requested!

Because I had it firmly in my head that I wanted the lesser amount, I asked if I could work 75% of my time on that project. How dumb!

One adjustment I did make is that at the bottom of my Positive Outcomes sheet, I always write “This, or something better.” Being specific is good, but being restrictive isn’t. I make sure that I stay open to the possibility of something better!

At that same time I had written “(By September 28th) I have paid speaking engagements lined up for the rest of the year that will earn at least” twice as much.

Before the end of August I received a request for a consulting contract that was for exactly that amount, to start immediately. Amazingly, I finished the first job ahead of schedule so they were willing to let me go to the next.

Am I upset that I didn’t make the money through speaking engagements? Of course not! I specified speeches because at that time I saw that as the most logical avenue for me. The fact is, when I read it every day, I didn’t put my energy and focus into the speaking part, but I definitely put energy into the income amount. It’s the energy that matters, as my results would indicate.

Regular Interaction With Goals is Key

But here is another key component – you need to interact with the goals.  They have mass separate from you.  Now you need to let them create a force upon you.

This is the key problem with writing New Year’s resolutions.  How many times have you looked at those resolutions since you wrote them?  My friend Kathy keeps her resolutions in a book that she keeps with her at all times.  She’s specific, down to how many books she’s going to read each month.  She reviews her resolutions throughout the year to see how she’s progressing.  She invariably achieves them.

Maybe Professor Matthews could do a study on this. Well… she kinda did.  She put people into five groups, and the fifth group was required to send a report on their progress to a friend.  Professor Matthews attributed the significant difference of Group 5 to be due to accountability.  I would assert that the reporting required them to interact with their goals, creating the force to move them forward.

The interaction with someone else is one way to exert the force upon yourself but there are other ways.  For instance Mauricio Estrella is a guy who imbeds goals into his monthly passwords. He creates passwords such as “Lose10#s  or  “4giveJane” that he interacts with every time he logs on.  What a great idea!

The way I use this concept is that I print out my Positive Outcomes document and I read it every day, often many times a day.  In this way it can create a force upon me.  When I’m feeling unmotivated or fearful or frustrated, that’s the most important time to pull that paper out and read it.  If I read my Outcomes and they aren’t inspiring to me, or I get clearer on what I want, I update them.

Whatever method you use, write your goals, being specific but not restrictive, and interact with them regularly.