Proven Strategies for Actually Achieving Your Goals

It’s been my “goal” to be a published author for a long time. I say “goal” in quotes because really it’s been more like a dream, not something I can control. I could make a goal to actually finish the book, but I haven’t been successful at that, either. (Not a draft that I like, anyway.) So I set an achievable goal of writing 8 hours a week. I haven’t quite been hitting it, but I have been putting stars on the calendar, and that has actually been a great tool for showing me how close I’m getting to really putting in the time I need.

Now I’m reading a book called The ONE Thing. I picked it up after watching a highly motivating session (no longer free) about it by its coauthor, Jay Papasan. In chapter 14 of the book, the authors mention research that asked one group of students to visualize an outcome (e.g., getting an A on an exam), while “the others were asked to visualize the process needed to achieve a desired outcome (like all of the study sessions needed to earn that ‘A’ on the exam)” (their emphasis, p. 152 according to my eBook). Students in the second group were far more successful; in fact, the paper’s abstract states, “Envisioning successful completion of a goal or resolution of a stressor–recommendations derived from the self-help literature–did not” produce meaningful progress.

So basically, all this time I’ve been spending dreaming about my life as an author hasn’t helped me at all. I mean, I could have told you that, but now I know why and I have a tool to help me.

But wait, there’s more! Gail Matthews did further research that illuminates additional ways to tilt the odds in your favor. The most effective things you can do are (in order, cumulatively):

  1. Write down your goal
  2. “Formulate action commitments” and write them down (e.g., “at this time in this place I will <your goal> for this long”)
  3. Send your goals and action commitments to a supportive friend
  4. Send your friend weekly progress reports

The study has a total of only 149 participants who completed it, but the positive effect of doing all four things was noteworthy! The ONE Thing recommends starting with your “someday” goal and doubling it (dream big), then working backward to your five-year goal, this year, this month, this week, and today (although if you plan weekly you probably can figure out your daily goal). I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to start that process!

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