You Have No Goals Unless They’re Clearly Written Down

Writing will help you focus on the most important goals, make plans for their achievement and easily determine your progress.

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If you’re in the habit of writing down new year resolutions, this has been a great period to reflect back on what you wanted at the beginning of the year. If you’re like most, you gave up on your resolutions on January 12 and never looked back.

However, research shows that there are people who set their resolutions so well that they are able to follow through and 44 percent of them find success halfway into the new year.

How do they do it?

Their success is highly dependent on the fact that their goals are set in writing. According to one study, writing down your goals improves your chances of success by 42 percent. There’s an overwhelming amount of research proving the profound effect writing has on achieving our goals.

My take? The only way to set achievable goals is by writing them down.

How it works

It can seem like a lot of work to have to write your goals when you can easily store them in your brain — after all, they are your goals and you know them best. However, according to neuroscience, writing works. And it does on two levels: External storage and encoding.

External storage means you have a backup storage for the details of your goals in case your memory fails. Remember you still have to follow the SMART rule when setting your goals. The details of a SMART goal can’t all be stored in the brain without expecting to lose a significant amount.

The second level is encoding and it’s the deeper, less obvious explanation. Even as intricate as the brain is, it can’t store everything. It must sort out all the information you perceive picking the most important for long-term memory storage and discarding the unimportant stuff. Encoding is the biological process that takes all perceived information to the hippocampus for analysis and sorting. Writing enhances encoding making the information appear important enough for long-term memory.

To add to this, there are more benefits of writing goals down without which those goals almost seem meaningless.

1. Concentrate effort

Effective goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART). The specificity of the goal is important in achieving it.

Let’s face it, part of the reason you set your goals so lazily is that goal-setting is hard work. It’s a continuous process where everyday you have to decide whether you’re going to work them or not.

Writing your goals down allows you to explore your options and reveal what you truly care about. It helps to regularly read out your goals to yourself to help ingrain the focus and direction. When you fully internalize your goals, you’ll know the things to say “no” to concentrate your efforts only on things that are aligned with your goals.

2. Plan better

You won’t achieve your goals overnight neither will writing them guarantee you success. Without a clear plan laying out the path you intend to take, your goals are deemed to fail.

Usually, a goal plan will include other smaller goals that add up to the main goal. For instance, if you wanted to start a new business one year from now, that goal may include other goals. You may have to save a certain amount of money during the time leading up to starting the business. This might call for cutting down on some expenses. Maybe you’re eating too much junk and taking unnecessary vacations. When you eliminate these, you also realize other goals such as living healthier and learning new skills you’ll need for the business. You get the point.

Only by writing can you spot these connections and make grand plans of achieving your goals.

3. Assess yourself

Another important part of the process of achieving your goals is measurement. You won’t know if you’re achieving your goals until you measure.

Setting a timeline of evaluation will help you regularly check if you’re going according to plan/remaining on track. Writing helps you set a sound evaluation schedule. For instance, if you set a one-year goal, you might decide to evaluate your progress every three months. During evaluation, you review your goals and your achievement spotting areas of improvement and planning for the next period.

To keep track and assess yourself comprehensively, you’ll have to do some writing.


You can set your resolutions at any time of the year. There’s never a bad day to set new goals. However, when you do it, better do it right: In writing. Writing will help you focus on the most important goals, make plans for their achievement and easily determine your progress.

Featured image by flickr Paojus Alquiza

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