It’s the talk of the town on New Years’ Day – though it’s usually more talk than action.
Some claim it’s irrelevant and a waste of time… others believe it’s the key to success. So who’s right?
Is it a New Years’ Resolution or a goal?
I’m not just splitting hairs here. In practice, a New Years’ Resolution is something you hope to do (losing weight). And by January 21st (if not sooner), it’s usually forgotten. A goal should have more teeth to it.
The Harvard and Yale Studies – Fact or Fiction?
Over the past several years, there’s been a lot of discussion in the business community about whether the Harvard and Yale studies really occurred.
The story goes that in 1979, recent Harvard MBA graduates were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”
Reportedly, they responded like this:
- 84% had no specific goals at all
- 13% had goals that were not written
- 3% had clear, written goals – and plans to accomplish them
Ten years later, the researchers again interviewed the same people. Here’s what they found:
- The 13% who had unwritten goals were earning an average of twice as much as the 84% with no goals
- The 3% who had written goals were earning an average of 10 times as much as the other 97%.
The findings were basically the same as those resulting from a 1953 Yale study.
Turns out these “studies” were an urban myth. This was confirmed recently by the folks at Yale.
Do You NEED to Write Down Your Goals?
However, a real study was done at Dominican University.[i]
The 149 participants in the study were randomly assigned to one of five groups:
- Group 1 – asked to simply think about what they wanted to accomplish over the next four weeks.
- Group 2 – asked to write down their goals for the next four weeks.
- Group 3 – asked to write down their goals and formulate action commitments.
- Group 4 – asked to write down goals, formulate action commitments, and share both with a supportive friend.
- Group 5 – same as Group 4, plus asked to send weekly progress reports to a supportive friend who would act as accountability partner. They also received weekly reminders to email quick progress reports to their friend.
Their goals ranged from business to personal – including learning a new skill, listing and selling a house, writing a chapter of a book…
The results were pretty astounding.
Group 5 achieved nearly twice as much as Group 1, and also achieved more than any other group. Group 4 achieved significantly more than Groups 3 and 1. Group 2 achieved more than Group 1.
Seems pretty compelling, right?
Naysayers Abound – Even Some Who have Accomplished a LOT!
Not everyone agrees. Including some very successful folks. Some of my top-paid colleagues claim that they don’t have written goals. Gasp!
But I think their assertions may not be quite true. I suspect these people have some well-defined goals in their heads. Most of their goals are limited to business and making money. And many of them are very wealthy, so if they don’t achieve their goal one year, it’s not a big deal.
Hopefully, you’re focused on your marriage and children, in addition to the financial piece. So the results of your efforts matter a lot more, and…
If You Aim at Nothing, You’ll Hit it Every Time
Personally, I want to be sure my life counts. And in order to do that and not be sidetracked by daily minutia, I believe it’s important to set goals, write them down, discuss them with an accountability partner, and revisit them often.
When my twins were a couple months old, I listened to a radio series by Chuck Swindoll about raising children. I don’t remember if he specifically advocated this or not (something else he said may have triggered this thought)… but I was inspired to visualize and write down what I wanted my children to be like as young people and adults.
I assure you that when I was caring for newborn twins, age 18 or 20 seemed like an eternity away. And as you can imagine, I was busy, so it would’ve been easy to put it off. But it was one of the best things my husband and I ever did.
It allowed us to reverse engineer to decide what we needed to accomplish (in general terms) in each of the life stages from newborn to 18.
Unfortunately, I believe most parents – even homeschooling parents – get so busy with the day-to-day that they never sit down to figure out the big goals they have for their children’s growth and maturity. And all of a sudden, they’re out the door. And your best opportunity is gone.
Which is why I advocate hitting the “Pause” button and taking a few hours on New Years’ Day or New Years’ weekend to spend a few hours writing down your goals.
If necessary, hire a babysitter for half a day or a day… or take advantage of the grandparents’ offer to spend time with your children over the holidays.
Types of Goals to Set…
Write goals for your relationship with your spouse, for your children, for your personal development.
Annual goals could include areas like spiritual development, finances, social, educational, and just plain fun!
Long-range goals (5 years or longer) might include your vision for who your children will be as adults (responsible, citizenship, parenting, etc.), or plans to start a business or buy a different home…
You also need a reason “why” you want to achieve your goals, or you won’t achieve them. What’s the undercurrent that makes you passionate about your goals and dreams?
Teach your teens to set goals too. Most people have no idea how to set goals, so they don’t do it. Don’t be part of this aimless crowd, and don’t let your teens leave home without learning this process. They’ll achieve more and be more focused as a result.
Your Goal-Setting Blueprint
So, ready to set your 2015 goals? Here’s your goal-setting blueprint:
Get out a pen and paper. Writing down your goals makes them concrete and tangible. It’ll keep you from fuzzy thinking. If it’s not clear enough to write down, you won’t achieve it.
1. State the goal.
Answer the question: What do you want to accomplish with your life? In your family?
You must have clarity, or it’ll be hard to achieve your goals. “Sort of” isn’t good enough.
Imagine trying to hit a bull’s-eye when the lines are so blurred that you can’t tell where they are. Or trying to do so with 20/200 vision and no glasses. Impossible.
State your goal in a positive way – even if you’re not 100% sure you can accomplish it. State it in the present tense. Instead of “I want to lose 30 pounds,” say “I am losing 30 pounds by July 1, 2015.”
Author Brian Tracy suggests writing down your three biggest goals every morning when you wake up, and reviewing them before you go to bed.
Whether it’s a goal for the day, the year, or the decade, getting things out of your head and onto paper is a crucial first step.
2. Set a deadline.
Humans are naturally lazy and tend to drift toward the path of least resistance. Without a deadline, procrastination sets in and you’ll end up putting off your goals.
Don’t be afraid to fail. Think about how Thomas Edison’s many failures ultimately led to success.
It’s better to be specific than general. For example, consider these two statements:
I want to increase my monthly income by June 2015.
I want to increase my monthly income from $4,000 a month to $4,800 a month by June 2015.
Which is more likely to happen?
Add a deadline to every goal. You can always adjust the date later if you miss your target. But stating your deadline helps get your mind and body into high gear.
3. Identify the obstacles.
This is an important step that’s often neglected. What stands between you and your goals?
By becoming aware of obstacles, you can find ways to overcome them. This is not the path of least resistance; this is hard work. But we have goals because they’re worthwhile, not because they’re easy.
Author Jim Rohn gives this great example from football:
“You’re in an empty football stadium with a ball tucked under your arm. You cross the goal line. A huge success? Of course not! There was no resistance, no defense, no opposing team, no fans cheering or booing you. All you did was walk with a ball on a field. You could’ve done that in any park.
Now, add in the game and a stadium packed with screaming fans and the opponent’s booing fans. Now when you cross the line into the end zone, you’ve scored a touchdown and it’s a highly meaningful accomplishment.”
Don’t run from obstacles. They’re an important part of life – and a big part of how we gain wisdom.
So, if you’re trying to lose weight, what might be some obstacles?
- I’m terribly out of shape and can’t exercise for more than a few minutes.
- I homeschool my kids and I’m too tired by the end of the day to do anything else.
- I don’t have time to prepare a different meal for myself than the rest of the family is eating.
Write your obstacles down. They won’t seem nearly as formidable on paper as they do in your head. So writing them down is a great first step toward overcoming them.
4. Identify people who can help you.
Ask for help. If you’re serious about achieving your goals, it’s not the time to be shy or independent. History’s greatest minds had wonderful mentors or assistants who helped them accomplish a great deal. (For both good and evil, unfortunately.)
For weight loss, there are online and in-person support groups. In business, there are mentors, mastermind groups, seminars, and more. For homeschooling, there are coops, conferences, newsletters (like this one), and other homeschoolers in your church or neighborhood.
List the people, groups, and organizations that can help you in your quest. Research options as needed. Finding information has never been easier than it is today.
5. List the benefits of achieving your goal.
Let your imagination run wild. This is the fun part. List as many benefits as you can. You’ll find it inspiring.
If you want to lose 30 pounds – which is one of my goals by May 1 – here are just a few of the benefits:
- Better health – blood sugar levels, joints, and much more
- More energy
- Enjoy shopping for clothes again
6. List the skills needed to attain your goal.
Your ability to achieve your goals is directly related to learning the skills needed to achieve them. Fortunately, we live in an age when it’s easier than ever to learn new skills, with the plethora of online classes, how-to books and courses, and more.
And then there’s the old standby of practice. Zig Ziglar once stated, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well.”
7. Develop your plan.
This is the “how” piece.
Make a detailed plan that states how you’re going to integrate the necessary steps into your daily routine. Where will they fit into the schedule? If you don’t schedule them, there’s a good chance you’ll never move forward with them.
If you say you’re going to memorize one Scripture verse per week, when is that going to happen? Will you include it in your school day and do it with your children (a good idea)? Or make it part of your personal time with the Lord?
Likewise, if your goal is losing weight, you’ll need to schedule exercise, and perhaps time needed to prepare different meals – unless you decide to move your entire family towards better eating habits.
Don’t worry… if you miss your deadlines, you can adjust them. Don’t beat yourself up over that. As the old saying goes, “It’s better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.” But you do need to find a way to schedule these things into your day. Your goals are worth the effort.
8. Share your goals with someone. It’ll help you achieve them.
As the Dominican study showed, sharing your goals with someone else will help keep you on track toward achieving them. A weekly progress report is even better.
Making your goals specific and actionable puts legs on your goals.
I’d love to hear about your 2015 goals for yourself, your marriage, your family, and your homeschool.