5 Reasons Why You Should Commit Your Goals to Writing

As 2013 has rolled over to 2014, there has been the usual emphasis on New Year’s resolutions. Network television, radio shows, podcasts, and blogs have all had features on the topic.

Writing Goals in a Journal

Photo courtesy of ©ShutterStock.com/ditty_about_summer

But the truth is, New Year’s resolutions don’t work. Get this:

  • 25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week.
  • 60 percent of people abandon them within six months. (The average person makes the same New Year’s resolution ten separate times without success.)
  • Only 5 percent of those who lose weight on a diet keep it off; 95% regain it. A significant percentage gain back more than they originally lost.
  • Even after a heart attack, only 14 percent of patients makes any lasting changes around eating or exercise.

But while New Year’s resolutions don’t work, goals do. Surprised?

The research is conclusive. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, did a study on goal-setting with 267 participants. She found that you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

I have found this to be true in my own experience. Here are just a few goals I have written down over the last three decades:

  • Marry a passionate, supportive wife who is committed to long-term marriage.
  • Make $100,000 a year doing what I love.
  • Lose 25 pounds and get in the best shape of my life.
  • Complete a half marathon.
  • Write a New York Times bestselling book.
  • Become the CEO of Thomas Nelson.

Of course, most people don’t bother to write down their goals. Instead, they drift through life aimlessly, wondering why their life lacks purpose and significance. I am not saying that committing your goals to writing is the end-game. It’s not. But it is the beginning.

The secret to accomplishing what matters most to you is committing your goals to writing. This is important for at least five reasons.

  1. Because it will force you to clarify what you want. Imagine setting out on a trip with no particular destination in mind. How do you pack? What roads do you take? How do you know when you have arrived? Instead, you start by picking a destination. The same is true with the milestones in your life. Writing down your goals forces you to select something specific and decide what you want.
  2. Because it will motivate you to take action. Writing your goals down is only the beginning. Articulating your intention is important, but it is not enough. (This is where I disagree with Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret). You must execute on your goals. You have to take action. I have found that writing down my goals and reviewing them regularly provokes me to take the next most important action.
  3. Because it will provide a filter for other opportunities. The more successful you become, the more you will be deluged with opportunities. In fact, these new opportunities can quickly become distractions that pull you off course. The only antidote I know of is to maintain a list of written goals by which to evaluate these new opportunities.
  4. Because it will help you overcome resistance. Every meaningful intention, dream, or goal encounters resistance. From the moment you set a goal, you will begin to feel it. But if you focus on the resistance, it will only get stronger. The way to overcome it is to focus on the goal—the thing I want. Steven Pressfield’s book, Do the Work, is must-reading on this topic.
  5. Because it will enable you to see—and celebrate—your progress. Life is hard. It is particularly difficult when you aren’t seeing progress. You feel like you are working yourself to death, going nowhere. But written goals are like mile-markers on a highway. They enable you to see how far you have come and how far you need to go. They also provide an opportunity for celebration when you attain them.

Goal-setting is so important that I have created an entire course about it. It is called, “5 Days to Your Best Year Ever.” More than 2,000 students have already enrolled in the course and are well on their way to creating an extraordinary 2014.

The good news is that the first three videos are free. Even if you don’t enroll in the course, these videos will help you clarify what you want and give you a leg-up in designing your best year ever. You can find out more here. Check it out.

Question: What experiences have you had in committing your goals to writing? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Last year I made my goals public, I wrote them on my blog. As the year went on, I would have readers check in and ask me how I was doing? It was a little nerve-racking but in the end just what I need. I had 5 main goals and in the end I lost 133 pounds, I ran 658 miles, I had my first published book it book stores, I spoke in 6 different countries and our family got one-way tickets for our move to Hawaii in April. Writing them down works, and if you want some extra accountability, make them public!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Holy smoke. That’s quite a set of accomplishments. I knew about some of these but not the others. I can’t wait to see what you do in 2014. #BestYearEver

      • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

        The sky’s the limit Michael! I’m grateful for the amazing content you and so many others provide to help so many.

    • http://zechariahnewman.com/ Zechariah Newman

      It has been awesome to watch you Kimanzi! You are an inspiration. Totally agree with making your goals public.

      • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

        You’ve been a great friend during this time!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Kimanzi—133 pounds is incredible! Really amazing!

      • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

        Thanks Barry :)

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      AMAZING. Way to go, Kimanzi!

      • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

        Thanks Michele :)

    • Jim Martin

      Kimanzi, this is wonderful! This also encourages me in my own goal setting.

      • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

        Let me know if I can help in some way!

  • http://zechariahnewman.com/ Zechariah Newman

    Very true Michael. Writing goals down has to be done. They need to be SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. This is where a lot of people including myself sometimes go wrong.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yep. I discuss this at length in the Best Year Ever video I link to above.

      • http://zechariahnewman.com/ Zechariah Newman

        I will check them out. Thanks Michael!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Zech—me too. Out of those 5 which do you find the most difficult to implement once the goal has been set?

      • http://zechariahnewman.com/ Zechariah Newman

        Berry the part where I struggle is a combo of realistic and timely. I underestimate what I can do in the long-term and overestimate what I can do in the sort-term. I often get into trouble trying to conquer the world in a day. How about you?

        • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

          Oh—man, you and I would definitely have that in common! I think I struggle with making a task time bound and really finding the internal courage to keep that commitment. This can really be challenging when you work alone and nobody really knows if you don’t reach a time goal—except you!

          • Jim Martin

            Barry/Zechariah, so glad to read your comments. I am with both of you regarding with the time component of this coupled with the discipline/realism needed here. Thanks.

          • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

            Jim—good to know we aren’t alone!

  • http://expertnicheacademy.com/ Carol Mortarotti

    This is a great post Michael. Writing down your goals puts them out to The Universe but you need to take daily action. I have been writing a yearly goal list since I was 11 years old and it helped me stay focused on what I really wanted to achieve. I also keep an index card on my nightstand that has my goals and affirmations on it and read it before I go to bed and when I wake up. I always look forward to your articles, thank you for all that you do for us to help us live the life we design. Happy New Year!

    • Jim Martin

      Carol, I like the frequency in which you read through your goals. Reading about your habits reminds me that I probably am not doing this enough.

  • Denise_Brouillette

    I’ve done this for the past 14 years and doing so has kept me completely focused on what matters to me. The key for me has been to articulate just a very few goals (up to 3) that are right for me (and not the goals that someone else thinks I should have!) and that link both to my values and the longer-term vision I have set for myself. Magic happens when I do this!

  • http://acoupletravelers.com/ acoupletravelers

    great stuff! I like to write my goals in an email and then boomerang them to myself every month to make sure I’m getting a constant reminder.

  • http://inpursuitofhappiness.net/blog Britt Reints

    #6 Because it works.

  • http://www.leadtoimpact.com/ Bernard Haynes

    To help us set meaningful goals, we created a family vision statement a couple of years ago. We included our purpose, prioritize core values and vision for 7 areas of life. We have our vision statement framed and posted in a prominent place in our home.

    When we set family and personal goals we have a blueprint. We wrote our family and individual goals at the end of Nov. Even my 8 yr has a written goal. We keep our goals, a copy of our personal, marriage and family vision statements and dream images and lists in our vision book. We review our vision book monthly as a family to see our progress or lack of.

  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing this post. I, too believe that it’s important to write your goals down and revisit them from time to time to keep yourself on track. In fact I wrote an article several years ago that I have revised and republished this year called: Write the Vision, Make it Plain. If you’d like to check it out, the link is: http://deborahhbateman.com/articles-written-by-the-author/write-the-vision-make-it-plain/
    Deborah H. Bateman

  • http://www.thesocialsyndicate.com/ Michael Naughton

    Goals require: Commitment. Completion. Closure. Writing them done is a surefire way to get there. Thanks Michael!

  • http://chaos-control.mobi/ Dmitriy Tarasov

    Love the preparing for a trip metaphor.

  • Kirbie Earley

    I’m a firm believer in this, in fact I’ve blogged about it myself and I use goal setting as part of a first step in innovation. I too go for SMART goals. I went through your Life Plan again earlier this week and am planning tomorrow to do some goal setting to go along with it – be more specific about some of the things I wrote in the plan. I’m charged up for a GREAT 2014!

    • Jim Martin

      Kirbie, your comment reminds me of how motivating it is to invest in goal setting at the beginning of each year. The process really does help me to be excited about 2014.

      • Kirbie Earley

        It charges me up too! Unfortunately it got pushed to tomorrow. I have 3 infant granddaughters who are all very sick with various stuff right now and the bulk of my day has been on helping them out. Meanwhile, they’re banging around in my head though! Tomorrow we will be snowed in so no excuses! Good luck!

  • Earth Lover

    Happy New Year to you Michael!! Hope you had a supernatural holiday season with fam and friends! I clicked on that page to view the three videos but it seems to have disappeared… http://michaelhyatt.com/bestyearever.me

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I’m so sorry. I left out part of the URL. It is fixed now. Thanks.

      • Earth Lover

        Michael, no need to apologize. Thank YOU so much for fixing the problem and I can now view the video… I’m only now able to access the internet as my computer was infected :( – but all fixed now :)

  • http://firstthingsproductivity.com/ Brandon Vaughn

    There is something mystical, almost magical about writing things down. It’s not so much about time management, or creating an awesome “to-do” list that simply makes us feel guilty if we don’t get every single thing done.

    Rather, I find it is more about clearing my head, truly identifying what I want, and setting my intention.

    I’m actually diving into a series based on Neil Fiore’s Now Habit book in which I discuss ways to overcome procrastination and get moving. This series is found at http://FirstThingsProductivity.com

    Michael has posted some great information in this new series of his. I just come back to feeling that writing things down are more important than many of us realize.

    Besides Michael’s course and Neil Fiore’s Now Habit book, I would recommend picking up “Write It Down, Make It Happen” by Henriette Klauser. I hope to do an online bookstudy/podcast on that book sometime this next year.

  • http://cashwithatrueconscience.com/rbblog Ryan Biddulph

    Writing out goals creates order in the mind and an orderly minded person can achieve astounding things.

    Thanks Michael!

  • http://personalsuccesstoday.com/ John Richardson

    It’s so frustrating to see people come up with the same resolutions over and over. Sounds like your course is doing well. Nice to start the year off on a positive note!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, John. Evidently, this is a huge felt need.

  • Prash

    Thank you for an inspiring post. I have been putting off a personal publishing goal, but now am energized enough to pick it up again: http://leadinglions.wordpress.com

  • http://SourcesOfInsight.com/ J.D. Meier

    I find that it’s the “making sense” part of writing something down that makes it stick.

    Related to writing, there’s even power in paper. There was a Scientific American article on the subject:

    “Studies in the past two decades indicate that people often understand and remember text on paper better than on a screen. Screens may inhibit comprehension by preventing people from intuitively navigating and mentally mapping long texts.”

    I think that’s the key: understanding, remembering, and the mental map of our goals that we internalize.

  • http://www.myaspergers.net/ steveborgman

    Michael, thanks for talking about the importance of writing goals down. I remember hearing Brian Tracy talk about the importance of not only writing our goals once, but repeatedly, even on a daily basis. And he encourages writing by hand, as there seems to be a connection between handwriting something, and the part of our brain that remembers and activates the needed action.

  • http://about.me/rishabh Rishabh R. Dassani

    If you don’t write your goals, you can’t measure your progress. And as the late Peter Drucker used to say — what gets measured, gets managed.

  • Jeremy Fidelis

    I have a problem with even starting a goal as the year progresses, I am left blank and just get by especially at work. Can you please give me a few tips how to take the first step…thanks.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill


      What is your why? Whenever I am not feeling motivated I must remind myself what my “why” is? especially when they are tasks that I don’t particularly enjoy—but I am the best person for them… having a clearly stated “why” I am doing this help. What is at stake? this is just one way that might help.

  • Yolanda Clay Triplett

    Thanks for keeping me encouraged and empowered. This post just reinforces what I am pushing with The 100 Day Smart Goal Challenge. You have to put your goals on paper. The visual can be visited and help you focus.

  • Dan Erickson

    I am one to rarely put goals in writing. I make them as I go and it seems to work.

  • Laura Hartman

    I find that I can remember things better after I’ve written them down, especially if I write them by hand rather than on the computer. I’m less likely to forget what I said my goal would be if I write it down, and it gives it a sense of permanence so that I don’t keep changing it.

  • http://goinswriter.com/ Jeff Goins

    This idea has literally changed my life. Thanks for teaching it to me.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jeff!

  • Janica Bianca Canlas

    I took all down onto my journal. I’ll leave a comment here before 2014 ends. Thank you for the thoughts. :)

  • http://leadright.wordpress.com/ Brent Dumler

    Love it. And if you blog about your goals (or constantly make them public on social media), you gain instant accountability. People are bound to ask you about your progress. I’m doing this in a couple of different ways and am so excited for 2014. Thanks, Michael.

  • Dee Fit

    Aren’t some of the goals on your list actually considered desires since they are out of your control? Goals can be measured and attained. Desires are simply things you hope and pray for like marrying a passionate, supportive wife.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Yes, you could argue that. They definitely aren’t SMART—a distinction I learned later in life. My course goes into that in detail.

  • http://lifesignatures.blogspot.com/ Lawrence Namale

    I love number 1 and number 5: There is just something ‘magical’ about the relationship between the brain and a pen to produce clarity on paper. Having a dream in the head is not as powerful as crystalizing it on paper. For number 5, I love it when we track our progress. The whole of 2013, I could tell you exactly at what % I really ‘lived’ each month. Thanks for sharing. Awesome post.

  • Tammy Setzer Denton

    I’ve written down my goals and posted them on the fridge for more than 30 years. I don’t accomplish all of them every year, but I come close. Being on the fridge I see them every day and stay on track. My friends and family also see them and encourage me along the way. I’ve kept almost every list over the years and review all of them on the rare occasion. I can now laugh at a few things I thought was important when I was younger. By reviewing all of them, I figured out some bad habits (like credit card balances) had to go. I kept writing down, “Pay off credit cards”. I would do so, but every year that goal made the list. I eventually got rid of all credit cards. Problem solved. Weight loss was another repeat offender. Instead of dieting, I now try to just eat and live healthier. I really believe in writing down my goals. I also believe in working on them every day and reviewing the whole, both past and present, each year.


    Dave Hearn, because I love GOD, and want HIS word to be active in my life, reading it daily is the most important goal of all, and your example has really inspired me, thanks, GOD BLESS YOU!!!!!

  • http://growing4life.net/ Leslie A

    I love number 3! I never thought of that before but how true!

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ the Old Adam

    I did write down my goals!

    I just forgot where I put them…

  • http://dougrasku.com/ Doug Rasku

    Thanks for the post, Michael. I just did a challenge about this on my blog. Great stuff.

  • Metz

    Committing your goals to paper. I have read one comment earlier that without writing on paper, others become completely frustrated about tons of small things that they need to do. In addition, it is a key to success. Well, I had to agree since that person got a point.

    Hmn, by writing our goals on the paper, as what you have said, it will force you to clarify what you want. It will serve as a guide. Nice post!

    I found this post shared on Kingged.com, the IM social networking site, and I “kingged” it and left this comment.

  • http://onourshoulders.blogspot.com/ Drew Petty

    I totally agree! Writing things down is so important. When I write my goals down, it feels like “to do” list mode where I am determined to get to “check that goal off.” Over the last 3 months I have been writing my goals down and prayers and circling them every day (taking a lesson from Mark Batterson’s The Circle Maker). Writing them down has continually kept them in mind and allowed me to take steps towards getting there. And I have seen results! I’ve started my own blog (onourshoulders.blogspot.com), got accepted into grad school with a full scholarship, and have seen God seriously move in my life in praying for friends and family members and finances!

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      Wow, Drew!! What a great testimony to the power of written goals!!

      • http://onourshoulders.blogspot.com/ Drew Petty

        Yes! Thanks! Like I said, writing your goals is important! I’m committed to pursuing the dreams God has given me and keeping them before me continually!

  • http://www.davecosta.co/ David Costa

    You really nailed it with this post, Michael.

    Out of all the really good things you had to say (and there were a lot of them), I found your second rule under the ‘committing your goals to writing’ section to be the most useful:

    “Because it will motivate you to take action”

    Your disagreement with Rhonda Byrne is spot on; if merely longing for things was enough to get them, the stats you cited at the beginning of this post wouldn’t be so dire.
    There is no doubt it takes more than just ‘naming and claiming’ things, and pointing out that writing down our goals is a great way to actually make them come true is an excellent place to start. That is, by writing them down, our goals start the journey from mere fanciful idea to reality.

  • Dawn Herring


    I love the tangibility and focus your journaling strategy for goal meeting provides. It’s easy to get sidetracked from what we want; but then again, we don’t often know what we want! I find that knowing what I don’t want helps me zero in on what I do want, and then I can get more practical in ways of getting where I want to go. I so agree that writing it down really does make all the difference.

    I have chosen your post, 5 Reasons Why You Should Commit Your Goals to Writing, as Dawn’s #JournalChat Favorite for 1/15/14, for all things journaling on Twitter. I will share a link on my website, in Refresh Journal and on the social networks.

    #JournalChat Live is now monthly, First Sunday at 4 EST/1 PST; Jill Winski joins us as special guest for our February 2nd Sunday Session.

    Thanks for clarifying the benefit of writing down what you want.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Dawn. I appreciate your support.

  • danajphoto

    Michael, thank you so much for your encouragement and love for people! I am reading your book Platform and it has been life changing for me and my business as a wedding photographer. God bless you, friend! :)

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Awesome, Dan. Glad to hear it.

  • Akash Agarwal

    Nice article and very well explained too. i really learned a lot from this article. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us.

  • Nathan Brook

    Really it’s a great experience for me to read this post which helps me to learn something new and interesting.Thanks for your explanation. I think it will force you to clarify what you want.