Write Down Your Goals [12]

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write down your goals

Set goals and write down your goals!

Research has shown that people who set goals perform better than the ones that don’t.

Goal setting will help you in many different ways. Setting clear goals improves your performance at any given task. Clear goals help you to focus more on the task at hand and avoid distractions. Your enthusiasm is higher when you are working on clear goals.

The benefits of writing your goals down

Well defined goals increase your persistence helping you to get through rough patches and negative emotions. And finally, setting a clear goal makes you more resourceful helping you to find a better way to achieve the results you want.

For more information about the psychology of writing down goals, you can read a research paper on the effects of goal setting on college students (PDF). From this paper, you can find references to a lot more goal research.

Setting Goals High!

Setting goals that are too low will fill us with a feeling of contentment, and this means that our development stops. For Michelangelo goals were important:

David Michelangelo setting goals quote

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. ~ Michelangelo

Set your goal higher than it seems possible, but start with small steps. If you want to run a marathon, then it may seem impossible to reach from your current position. Start running 10 minutes a day, and run slowly, walk if it seems hard. Increase that time 5 minutes every month. In 12 months you will be able to run more than an hour without rest.

When I started running, I was walking my dog. I ran for 4 minutes then walked for 4 minutes. So, I did that 25-30 minutes every time, and the results were quick to follow.

I suggest to have no rest days and pick your tempo so that you don’t need rest days. If your body is really tired then just walk but get out there (and maybe take a few running steps). You will need the most willpower to get from the couch to a door. Everything else is pretty easy. I have found that getting out every day will help you maintain momentum. Your daily routine requires less willpower than doing less frequently.

Next year start increasing intensity and you will be ready to run a marathon. I suggest that you use Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training Guide – Novice 1. Or use any other program for beginners they are pretty similar.

How to set goals?

Write down your goals! There’s a great mnemonic to help remember different elements of a clear goal. Many of you may know the SMART criteria. I will go over each aspect of the SMART goals and add comments from my own experience.

Here is Why You Should Never Tell People Your Goals

Here’s how to write down your goals template that helps you get going.


Specificity is the key in the clear goal setting. What is the result, what do you want to achieve? Here are some examples:

  • Lose 15 pounds instead of lose weight
  • Earn $5000 per month not just earn more
  • Not exercise more but walk/run 25 minutes every day
  • Replace become a writer with write 500 words per day
  • Go to X with kids every weekend not spend more time with family
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This derives directly from specific and means that you can measure progress. Either you are measuring the things you do (write 500 words every day) or results you are getting (lost 2 pounds last week). What gets measured gets done and every step in the right direction will motivate you to move on.

For example, I set a goal to write every day and noticed in a few days that it’s not really clear.

  • What to write about?
  • Should I write on a single topic or count a combined total of all writing?
  • Does Skype chat count?
  • How about a proposal to a client?

So I made the goal more specific and measurable by stating that I will write at least 2000 characters every day on a single topic that is not email, chat, proposal or technical writing.


There are different terms associated with the letter A. I have used the word actionable as it relates most directly to the idea of getting things done and knowing what you have to do next. Actionable goal means that you know what the next step is and you can make that step.

If I want to start an airline, then I don’t know what the next step is. Instead set a goal to create a list of requirements to start an airline. Try to make the next step small so it wouldn’t overwhelm you and keep you from taking it. The next step in “clean the house” is to clean my desk. Break large, vague goals into small, clear, and actionable goals.

Goethe goal quote

The important thing in life is to have a great aim, and the determination to attain it. ~~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


You need a powerful “why” for your goal. What is the reason you want to achieve that goal? Ask yourself if this is really something you want. How will this goal help you be happier? Will it improve your overall quality of life and have a positive effect on you and others?

For example, you can count the pages in your favorite book in the next two hours. This is a goal that is

  • specific,
  • measurable,
  • actionable, and
  • time-bound,

but it’s pointless and irrelevant.

Examples: I want to earn 5000 dollars every month because then I can travel to my dream locations. I write every day because I want to become a better communicator and write a book.


If it does not have a deadline, then it is not a goal. Every goal you set has a timeline. There are different points you can set on that timeline:

  • When do you start? The sooner, the better.
  • By what time you want to achieve the goal? Estimate the time needed and add 50% buffer.
  • How often do you do it? Create a schedule and stick to it no matter what.

Keep in mind that we tend to overestimate what we can do in short-term and underestimate what we can accomplish over the longer periods. So, don’t set a goal to lose 20 pounds in a month.

Want to goals

If possible set “want to” goals.

Reaching “want to“ goals is more likely than getting to your “have to’ goals,” says psychologists Marina Milyavskaya, a professor at Carleton University.

“Want-to” goals lead to don’t lead to as many temptations as “have to” goals.

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It’s easier to focus on something you want. If it’s something you want to do, then you have the drive to achieve it. If you have to do something that you don’t really want to, then there’s a lot of temptation to skip the practice.

However, I have to disagree with the professor on the value of the willpower.

When I started running, I hated it. I had to muster all of my willpower, motivation, and self-control to get going. Now, more than ten years later I want to run.

You have to build habits around your goals, and this will lead you to the results you expect.

But you still have to have willpower to get going.

Build momentum

Another example is a daily writing habit.

If you set your daily writing goal at 500 or a thousand words, then you might want to scale it back for the weekends. Maybe write just 50 or 100 words, but do it to trick your brain into thinking you are doing it daily.

Now take your first goal!

Now that you know how clear goals work, create a list of your own goals. You don’t have to go all SMART about your list. Just write it down. Anything that comes to your mind will be OK at this stage. Just to get you started here are the different areas of life that you might want to concentrate on:

  • Physical: health, looks, exercise
  • Financial: net worth, regular income, stuff you want
  • Personal development: education, hobbies and self-improvement
  • Family: relationships, children, lifestyle
  • Social: friends and community
  • Career: ambitions, fields of interest

After you are done with the dreams and long-term goals go over them one by one and try to make them SMART. You may find that you have to break many dreams into more manageable goals, but that’s OK. Make them small enough that you will take the first step in achieving them.

One thing to remember is that you don’t have to treat the list of goals as a fixed set. You can always add new goals or drop the ones that have become irrelevant. If you are doing this for the first time, then you should revisit the list every few days and add more stuff.

overdo Ladd quote

Don’t overdo it. Don’t over-diet, over-exercise, overeat, overdo the makeup, and don’t stress out. — Cheryl Ladd

Don’t overdo it

When you are really motivated and write down all your goals, then you may overdo it. Too many goals is not a good thing, because it often leads to multitasking. You need to focus and select two or three goals that you can fit into your schedule.

Go back to your list and decide what is it that you want to do first. Move all other goals to later pile.

If you take on too much, then you will miss your goals and lose motivation. It’s better to do less but consistently.

Get a pen and paper or open a text editor and write down your goals.

Image: Tahiti Sunset by twalmedia
Image credit: Michelangelo’s David by Jorge Castro
Image: Goethe in the Roman Campagna, 1787 painting by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein

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Priit Kallas

Founder of FixWillpower.com. I created FixWillpower to help you reach your goals. I have struggled my entire life to be consistent and avoid procrastination. The goal is to have a good life, do the things you love and get your results with minimum effort. FixWillpower website is about how I create motivation and productivity in my life. I write about the tools and techniques, best books, scientific research, and everything else that helps you move faster and stay on track. Minimum effort doesn’t mean slacking off. Minimum effort is about effectiveness and productivity. If there is a way to reach a goal in a shorter time or with less exertion, then you should use that. I will help you be smarter and reach goals faster. About FixWillpower

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3 Responses

  1. May 17, 2013

    […] Improve Your Life #12: Write Down Your Goals […]

  2. May 19, 2013

    […] Improve Your Life #12: Write Down Your Goals […]

  3. July 8, 2013

    […] meaningful write it down. Write down every single action that consists of more than one step. Write down what is the goal. Why are you doing it? How does done look like? Then decide what is the next […]

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