Around the first of every year, you’ll hear a lot of talk about New Year’s resolutions. Network television, radio shows, podcasts, and blogs all run features on the topic. Then around the start of summer, the subject comes up again as people realize the year is half gone. Often, they realize their resolutions have been long forgotten.
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 percent 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 best-selling 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.
- 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.
- 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 one place 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’ve made it the cornerstone of my latest course, “The Focused Leader Masterclass.” Thousands of students have already taken the course and are well on their way to achieving extraordinary goals. It’s a great way to get a leg-up in designing goals you will actually accomplish. You can find out more here. Check it out.
Either way, you’re much likely to achieve your goals by doing this one simple thing: write them down.