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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  • Lkfischer

    I work outside most days and I keep a small notebook in my back pocket that I use daily.  I include my goals inside the front cover of the notebook so I am reminded of them whenever I open this notebook.  I go through a notebook about once a month so I will rewrite the goals in a new notebook each month.  I usually get to cross one off and come up with a new one.  There is also a goal that has been there for a few years, get out of debt.  Thanks  Michael!

  • Anonymous

    This is fantastic advice. I haven’t done this in a while. Instead of making New Year’s Resolutions this year – which i don’t normally do anyway – I wrote a list of my accomplishments in 2010. What a list! It was awesome! And it encouraged me so much to see that, yes, in fact, I did have many great accomplishments. Now I will make my list of goals because I need them. I know them in my head but maybe there are some that need to be written down and read regularly :) I know my next writing goal is to finish my novel and publish it. I already achieved publishing my first book this year, now let’s make it two :)

    Blessings,
    Mel
    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    My experience is that after committing my goals to writing, I always made a list of steps I must take to achieve them. One of the steps, inevitably, involves financing. And that’s the step where every dream ends, and every goal falls apart. In the end, alas, my life is and always has been about scraping together enough cash to pay the bills. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      My experience is just the opposite: money follows vision and commitment.

      • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

        It does indeed, except that in my experience the actual amount of money is so small and the workload so overwhelming, that in the end, year after year passes by just chasing after the buck with little else accomplished except breaking even (in my lucky years).

        Needless to say, my goals in life aren’t where the money is, realistically speaking, so what I do for a living at any given time is necessarily unrelated to my goals, and then I’m left with the good old mantra that if I really wanted to achieve those goals, I would find a way to finance them. Ergo, I must have picked the wrong goals.

  • http://www.christopherneiger.com/blog Chris Neiger

    I wrote down some modest goals a couple months ago and have already met several of them. It really has been motivating! Thanks for the reminder to update them, I’m going to do it today!

  • http://twitter.com/levittmike Michael Levitt

    Writing down the goals provides a reminder to re-focus on what you felt you needed to do, when you wrote the goals down.

    Put the goals in a place you will see (and actually look) daily.  There are things on my desk that I don’t see, even though they’re right in front of me.

    One goal suggestion for everyone is to be present.  Live in the moment.  Don’t spend time worrying about the past, or worrying about the future.  

    Blessings!

  • http://www.facebook.com/graham.bates Graham Bates

    On a different note (and with permission from Mr. Hyatt),
    I am a student at Fuller Theological Seminary and am taking a class looking at how the Church can use Social Media to Improve its Witness and Discipling. I am looking at the education sector of the church and how people perceive the use of online content (blogs, podcasts, etc.) vs. in person content (sermons, classes, etc.) and if these are ever merged. I have put together a survey (http://edu.surveygizmo.com/s3/549691/Social-Media-and-Spiritual-Development - shortened to http://bit.ly/j6FTlI) - and would like you take 5-10 minutes of your time to give your thoughts. 
    If you do not have time, please reply and tell me if you ever take what you learn here to your local church. Why or why not?Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/doughalcomb Doug Halcomb

    By committing my goals to writing it has helped me clarify what is a goal and what is an objective (or desired result).  I believe that a goal is something that I can somewhat control by my actions and an objective is something that I want to see happen by I cannot control as it depends on the response of others.  For example, wanting to see my church grow in attendance by 100 people is an objective and inviting 100 people to attend my church is a goal.  I often see people setting goals that are really objectives and they are setting themselves up for failure as the outcome is not something that can control by their own actions.  Objectives are important as they help us figure out the goals we need to set to move towards that objective.  Every time I write down a goal I ask myself: “Is this an objective or a goal?”  

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    “Because it will provide a filter for other opportunities.” This reminds me of one of the seven life statements from “The Traveler’s Gift”– in fact, the stickiest statement for me (stickiest meaning the one that’s hardest to forget/easiest to remember). “I have a decided heart.”

    On certain issues, I have a decided heart. I don’t swerve from the path. I remember an opportunity that was offered me a few weeks ago. I turned the offer down because its time conflicted with something I already had prioritized, a decided-heart issue.

    I appreciate your explanation which helps orient life and its decisions, both major and minor.

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Excellent points. #1 has by far been the most challenging in my life. I also find that it changes over time. At first that threw me. That’s because #1 was the hardest question I faced. And when I found it changed, I questioned myself. You see, facing #1 causes you to answer questions about YOU.

    Not about what people think you should be or do. It’s about YOU. It’s about who YOU are, what YOU want to do, and what YOUR goals are. For so many of us, we get caught up in what we do, and who we are – based on external factors.

    It’s not a TRUE YOU. It wasn’t a true me. Once that #1 is decided and firm, the next points are easier to answer because you’re looking at it from a real position. May sound like an identity crisis. Maybe so.

    It’s easy for any of us to get caught up in a herd mentality – not making decisions or goals on our own. But over time, as my relationship with Christ grew, I could see my decisions, desires, and goals make more sense as they were rooted in faith. It’s a process for sure.

    But I’m willing to step out on a really long and thin limb and say that there are more people living unaware that the life they live is more for a brother of another mother (someone else) than their TRUE self.  :)

    I would encourage anyone who hasn’t committed to writing out your goals – specifically with the points above – try it now starting with #1. It’ll change your life.

    Blessings!
    @WMarkThompson:twitter

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Mark, awesome insight and comment. In a way, I think maturity is more about becoming the real YOU, the unique individual that God created you to be. So many people are content to live someone else’s story rather than live their own. Thanks.

      • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

        Thanks, Michael. As a kid (and even young adult) I remember taking on my friends’ personas – not really knowing who I was. I came to the realization that I wasn’t living my own life. Got REAL sick of that. Which led me to the only thing I knew to do to combat it. Write out what I like. What I held valuable. What I wanted to accomplish. I agree. It’s a maturation process. In some ways, still living it.

        I really appreciate what you do here on your blog. I’ve never been drawn to another blog like I am to yours. Feel a real connection here for some reason. Maybe it’s a common value. Maybe it’s your cool layout. Maybe it’s the people who are all here sharing. Probably a combination of all of it.

        Either way, I believe you’ve got something special here. But I have been thinking. You must spend a lot of time on this thing. You comment to a large number of people who post. I think that’s awesome. Shows you love this outlet and you love these people. God bless.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    “Because it will enable you to see—and celebrate—your progress.” Earlier you responded to my story with a success story of your own in relation to weight loss–20 pounds, you, 25 pounds, Gail–and I missed an opportunity to celebrate with you. I will drink a diet A & W in celebration of your successes this evening. Congratulations to both of you. Well done and thanks for bringing me along for the ride. It’s been a good one.

  • http://twitter.com/jvworldvision John Volinsky

    Great words Mike.  Like you I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. I gave this post to my 16 year old and he came back with three goals for the summer (read the Bible everyday, drink less soda and run a few times a week).  We are working on defining them and getting them into an everyday schedule.  Thanks for this practical post – very helpful.

  • http://hopefulleigh.blogspot.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Writing our goals down defines our lives.  I made a 31 Things Before Turning 31 list and had such a blast checking things off that I made a 32 Things list (http://hopefulleigh.blogspot.com/p/32-things-before-turning-32.html).  Some are small goals, like visiting a certain place, while some are big, like writing 5 chapters of my novel.  I think after this I’ll just make a life list!

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Leigh, I really enjoyed reading your list of goals :)

    • bethanyplanton

      What a great idea! My fiance and I made a similar type list. We made lists of what we want to do in the city and area we live in now before we move to Alabama in the fall. And when we actually do them, we are taking pictures. It is fun to look back at those adventures. 

  • Anonymous

    Writing my goals certainly makes them more of a reality for me versus having them rattle around in my head. Also, sharing them with close friends makes me accountable to get up and turn the ink into action. Thanks for your inspiration to go back over that list. 

    • bethanyplanton

      Accountability and support are definitely key in achieving your dreams. 

  • http://sevensentences.com Geoff Talbot

    I did this everyday for the period of 12 months… first thing in the morning I wrote out my vision statement and my goals… it was really good in one sense. I definitely gained clarity.

    I did however start to wear a lens of my life being all about me and my dream and I did succumb to thinking that everything was about “positive thinking”

    I want to start to do this thing, to avoid a lack of inertia but at the same time I want to keep the humbleness of faith. Any suggestions?

  • http://twitter.com/criznale Crystal Renfrow

    This is a great post! I’m curious though…what were the action steps you took to make #2 and #6 from your list above happen? This is where I struggle in my goal setting which is understanding and knowing what action steps to take. If you have already written about that before, can you post the link again? Thank you. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I have not written about this. I will consider that for a post, however. It’s probably too much for a comment. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    I have always had goals in my mind of what I want to accomplish but last year I decided to write them down.  So far this year I have achieved more than I thought I would at this point.  It sometimes creates anxiety to have my goals written down and know that I might be behind, but that often motivates me to keep putting one foot in front of the other when the going gets tough.  Thanks for the encouragement Michael.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You just nailed one of the great advantages of having written goals. They keep me going, too, when I would otherwise quit.

  • http://www.walkwiththewise.wordpress.com Gail

    I find that writing my goals, even putting them up where I regularly see them, doesn’t motivate me to action. They can actually end up being a demotivator, becoming a constant reminder of what I’m NOT achieving.
    However, some of the things I would have put on my bucket list, should I have ever written one, I have created opportunites to fulfill and they were never written down.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I think there’s a real difference between goals and a “bucket list.” (I have both.) I think of goals as something I am committed to achieving by a certain date (God willing). I think of items on my bucket list as something that I hope to accomplish before I die. This is similar to David Allen’s Someday/Maybe list. Thanks.

  • bethanyplanton

    I like how writing down your goals also helps you measure your progress. In life, we go through all these experiences day after day, but we don’t always look back to see how they all add up to where we are now. In writing down goals and tracking our progress, we can see how God has used us and been in our lives. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Amen. So true.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    This is so important! 

    I’ve been outlining my goals every year since I started in youth ministry, 20 years ago.  Those were mostly yearly goals.  I’ve recently started looking more long range as well as cutting my goals into monthly and quarterly “bite-sized” pieces.

    I can’t express how important this has been in my life.

  • Anonymous

    I developed the habit of writing my goals down and it’s been one of the greatest habits of my life. Now, anytime I get an idea, I write it down, even if it’s on the corner of my paper or in a random document.

  • Anonymous

    I just convinced a group of people I work with to sit down and work on goal setting in lunch and learn style setting at work.  Now if I can only convince them to sign up for Michael Hyatt’s new letter so that they can get the free Life Plan book, maybe we can walk through that too.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      There are SO many people to whom I would love to say, “Why are you floating
      your way through life? Make some goals! Get your life on track!”

      • Anonymous

        The sad part is that there are so many people that I know that would like “whatever.”

        • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

          This is true. Most people react to life, instead of proactively planning
          for it.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      That is a fun thing to do together as a group. I am doing it with my Mentoring Group now.

      • Anonymous

        How do you come up with your Mentoring Group?  Do you invite? Or are you asked?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

          I posted an invitation on my blog. I received 43 applications. I then picked eight men. One of the requirements was that they had to live in Nashville.

          • Anonymous

            Interesting.  Do you make changes?  How often do you rotate people?   Or do you even rotate them?

          • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

            I intended to do a new group every year. However, we rolled the last group over. We are continuing. I am not sure what we will do next year.

          • Anonymous

            I read the post from where you set it up.  If you do it again next year I would like to apply, but I will be knock by my oldest son.

  • Virtual Agents

    Writing down your
    goals, “real goals” in life is a smart thing to do. Some people
    tend to forget their real goals in life, so one way to keep it mind would be
    writing it down, it would really help you focus on the goals you really want
    to achieve.

  • http://www.inteliwise.com Virtual Agents

    Writing down your
    goals, “real goals” in life is a smart thing to do. Some people
    tend to forget their real goals in life, so one way to keep it mind would be
    writing it down, it would really help you focus on the goals you really want
    to achieve.

  • Anonymous

    Timely message for me, thank you. When my daughter, who will be in 5th grade when fall rolls around was in kindergarten, her teacher had her students write out 3 goals for each quarter. Then the kids would strive hard to achieve these goals. It made parent/teacher conferences fun to see the steps her 5 year old self had taken to accomplish her 3 goals. 
    I think Mrs. Johnson is on to something… :) 

  • http://www.publishedauthors.net/robsargeant/ Rob Sargeant

    Hi Mike,
    You should find this interesting as it involves World Vision and running. June 4th I’ve registered to participate in The Great Walk. This is a 62 km (40 mile) one day pledge run/walk on Vancouver Island. The route follows a winding logging road between the towns of Gold River and Tahsis. Over 150 people are registered to take part. I’ll be running/walking the distance to support World Vision, and have written a short blog about my commitment to do it here:
    http://robsargeant.blogspot.com/

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I’ll bet that will be beautiful! I love Vancouver Island.

  • Simon

    Mike,

    Have you ever written on the steps you have taken, in the area of your professional targets, to reach your goals?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I have. You can search for goals in the search box in the upper-right-hand corner.

  • Anonymous

    Michael,
    You mention that you put your goals in Evernote, but I did not see anything in your set up on organziation that shows goals per se.  How do you put them in Evernote and how do you ensure follow up/neck action steps being taken?
    Thanks

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      They are in my “Personal” notebook with the tag “goals.” I then transfer them to Nozbe as projects for deadlines and next action items.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for letting me know.

  • http://change.me Oleg Sinitsin

    I think of my schedule as a constant battle of Urgent vs. Important. If I don’t intentionally plan my time Urgent tends to win. Goal setting to me is the art of managing Important.

  • http://www.facebook.com/SaraRassler Sara Jane Rassler

    I know you’ve posted about goals before, and I’ve read at least two or three books about goal setting, but I’ve never taken the time to write down my goals. I keep thinking that “someday” I’ll sit down and actually think about the goals in my life and write them down. Today still isn’t “someday” but it’s one day closer to then. Thanks for the post, Michael.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Good for you!

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  • http://wewannado.com Ryan Knight

    It’s always crazy how much writing down goals helped. I recently got the Life Plan eBook from Michael and going through that has helped me focus better on my goals. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it.

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  • http://everydaysnapshots.com Dave Anthold

    I have found that when I write my goals down (or even tasks for that matter), I am much more likely to achieve them.  When I was coaching, we began the year with writing down a dream goal & a reality stretch goal.  Every week, sometimes more, we reviewed them.  Each workout was geared towards achieving our goals.  In the end, we hit the reality stretch goal about 90% of the time.  It works.

  • http://ashleyscwalls.wordpress.com Ashleyscwalls

    Over the past 3 months I have actively written down my goals, including action steps and continued to monitor the progress. It has been amazing!!!!! I would truly encourage this for anyone.

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  • http://twitter.com/GoalsOnTrack Harry Che

    Great advice!

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  • Danieljmacintyre

    I am working with a half a dozen clients on a goal commitment assignment and the method I’m using is one of the best I’ve ever worked with. I first learned about it from a book by author Steve Chandler. The human brain has the ability to commit to anything, but it will only do so if it believes there is great value in the commitment. We commit to all sorts of things on a daily basis! Did you brush your teeth yesterday? Did you where a shirt to work today? Of course you did! Why? Because on a subconscious level you are committed to these actions. 
     
    We never make excuses for these activities. You never hear someone say, “Well, I was really busy this morning so I forgot to put a shirt on.” However, you do hear people say, “I got really busy over the holidays so I stopped going to the gym.” We commit to the things that we value! We must attach our new commitments to something of value or we’ll never keep them. Here are a few examples of commitments I’ve made and a few I’ve helped my clients make.
     
    Stay on my workout plan for 30 days. If I don’t I’m dropping out of college. This client values her education more than anything and would be devastated if she had to quit school.    
     
    Quit drinking or I will present divorce papers to my wife. This client loves his wife and kids more than anything and knows it’s the only way he’ll stop drinking. Losing his family is the worst thing that could ever happen to him. He has signed separation papers that now sit in his work desk. He will present the papers to his wife if he takes one sip of alcohol.
     
    Sell 50,000 books by October 14, 2012. I wrote a check for $263,000 and it hangs on the wall in my office. I will cash the check next October, so I better start promoting my book.
     
    Author Napoleon Hill talked about burning all bridges in his legendary book Think and Grow Rich. I finally get it! Once we’ve decided what we want, we must burn all bridges to retreat. We must put it all on the line. Our minds/brains work very well when they’ve committed fully to something.
     
    I wrote a book about the achieving goals, and how to enjoy the process of reaching goals. It’s called Anything is Possible: 91 truths about what is possible for your life. Please check it out at: dreambigpublishing.com or Amazon.com. Best of luck!

  • Fadiageorges

    i believe in Jesus Christ ,,,,because his the only one that he is real,,, and that is true because he will speak to us not like the other those things that people made or create by there imagination.  so i will spend my life just to sacrifice for him ,,,,or perish in his name… 

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  • Bernie_cole

    Your five reasons for committing goals to writing are like my mantra. It’s great advice explained succinctly. I set myself what seems like a lot of goals and yet I rarely become overwhelmed when I give myself this kind of advantage. I use an online goal organizer that takes care of all five points. I brainstorm my ideas so everything becomes clear, I arrange every goal into simple checklist of tasks that are easy to follow (helps motivation and overcomes resistance), it’s a network so other opportunities are constantly coming my way, and it has a journal for me to record my thoughts and, yes, celebrate my victories. I agree, writing goals down is vital.