- your career,
- your relationships with spouses, partners, adult children,
- health and fitness,
- or motivation to get started doing something new?
Will Writing Down Your Goals Help?
Perhaps you have heard of the Harvard Business School study of goals in which only 3% of the graduating class had specific written goals for their futures. Twenty years later that 3% was found to be earning an astounding 10 times that of the group that had no clear goals.
I was going to use this study as the basis of a post about the importance of writing down your goals … but it turns out that this “study” is actually an urban myth! Even though this study is widely cited in literature and business circles about how to properly set goals, investigative reporting by Fast Company magazine revealed that no such study had ever been done.
My research shows that once this myth was debunked, Gail Matthews, Ph.D. at Dominican University, undertook a study of her own. It focused on how goal achievement is influenced by writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions and being accountable for those actions.
- Matthews’s study supported the positive effect of accountability: those who sent weekly progress reports to a friend accomplished significantly more than those who had unwritten goals.
- She also showed that those who wrote down their goals accomplished significantly more than those who did not write down their goals.
The Life Coach Says, Wait a Minute: There’s a Problem With Goals
Beware, though. When you’re working toward a goal, you are essentially saying, “I’m not good enough yet, but I will be when I reach my goal.”
The problem with this mindset is that you’re teaching yourself to always put happiness and success off until the next milestone is achieved. “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy. Once I achieve my goal, then I’ll be successful.”
The Solution: Practice or Process-Oriented Goal Setting
When we place unnecessary stress on ourselves to lose weight, succeed in business, get that next certification or to write a best-selling novel, we are focusing on outcomes.
I’m going to let you in on a little life-coaching secret.
To keep things simple and to reduce stress, I have my coaching clients focus on the daily process – the things you need to do to accomplish your goals, not the goals themselves – and then stick to a schedule. This helps them minimize anxiety about their big, life-changing goals.
When you focus on the practice instead of the performance, you can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time. It’s a win-win.
The Evolution of Goals
In spelling out or writing down a goal, we inevitably try to plan out where we will be and when we will make it there. That’s the whole point, right? We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way.
But how can we know when to step up and when to step back? How can we tell when we need to do more and when we need to trust the process more? What’s the difference between shaping the future and trying to control it?
This is especially applicable for parents, or anyone who manages people. If you’re not mindful, you can suck the joy out of your child’s schoolwork, sports or hobby. You can completely squash your team’s creativity.
Even if we commit ourselves 110% to these goals, we can end up overextending ourselves.
We need to remind ourselves to stay open to new possibilities, but chance can be a scary place. It’s the realm where things could go wrong. It’s the place where anything could happen, things are unpredictable, where you don’t feel you have a say or a choice.
Some of my Washington, DC Life Coaching clients are used to being in charge. Others are finding their way through unemployment, retirement, or changes in their lifestyle and relationships. It can be difficult to draw the line between being too heavy-handed and bringing stress into their goals, and simply being proactive and taking responsibility for them.
It can feel terrifying to simply let things happen, particularly when the stakes are high – when you care about something so deeply that it feels like a piece of you. But I promise you: it may sound cliche, but it’s all about the journey. Sticking to a process or practice is guaranteed to get you to somewhere great.
Staying True to Your Values
A lot of people put the ladder against the wrong building. Their goals are not aligned with their life’s purpose, so when they achieve their goals, the cost is their health or their relationships. According to Brendan Burchard, author of “High Performance Habits”, high performers value their own well-being more than any other demographic measured.
“I expected that these folks would be more stressed, their health would be more compromised, they would feel lonely at the top,” Burchard says. “I was wrong.”
Compared to their peers, high performers:
- Are less stressed
- Are healthier
- Are 40% more likely to exercise 3-5x per week
- Report higher levels of happiness
- Report having more positive relationships
This has everything to do with the alignment of their goals and their life’s purpose.
If you’re trying to find the middle ground between pushing and allowing, you may find these tips helpful:
- Accept that things may not go according to plan.
- Remember that you can’t control what other people do. You can only control who you choose to trust. You can’t guarantee a specific outcome, but you can do your best to enable an effective process.
- Be shaped by your goal. Obstacles to getting what you want will come up. Learn and let those obstacles shape your desires, intentions, and efforts.
- Let go of fear around not achieving your goal. If you keep going, good things will happen—both now and tomorrow—even if you can’t predict or control exactly what those good things are.
- Remember to be mindful of your health, well-being and relationships. The highest performers always are! (Isn’t that liberating?)
- Use positive self-talk to motivate yourself, and stick to the process.
Contact me for a complimentary, no-obligations life coaching consultation and we can work on your goals together. Or use the Appointment Scheduler and pick a time that works for you. I coach 90% of my clients over the phone, and my DC-based Life Coaching clients have the option of meeting with me in person. I look forward to hearing from you.