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Write Down Your Goals.

Journaling is a key component of the coaching process we utilize at Estacar and that Estacar executives use daily. Whether setting individual goals, organizing a client project, looking at our week or annually- goal setting and the process of communication through journaling or writing is an essential component of our success.

Sitting down to write down your goals gives you the best chance of achievement. Having goals written is more powerful than keeping them in your mind. Writing them down gives you clarity on what exactly you want to accomplish and helps guide your daily actions to pursue towards achievement. Achieving these goals takes courage, commitment, and motivation.

The purpose behind writing down your goals shows that you are emotionally and intellectually engaged in achieving them and there is actually Neuroscience behind how effective this practice can be.

Writing things down happens on two levels: external storage and encoding. External storage is easy to explain: you’re storing the information contained in your goal in a location (e.g. a piece of paper) that is very easy to access and review at any time. You could post that paper in your office, on your refrigerator, etc. It doesn’t take a neuroscientist to know you will remember something much better if you’re staring at a visual cue (aka reminder) every single day.

But there’s another deeper phenomenon happening: encoding. Encoding is the biological process by which the things we perceive travel to our brain’s hippocampus where they’re analyzed. From there, decisions are made about what gets stored in our long-term memory and, in turn, what gets discarded. Writing improves that encoding process. In other words, when you write it down it has a much greater chance of being remembered.

Neuropsychologists have identified the “generation effect” which basically says individuals demonstrate better memory for material they’ve generated themselves than for material they’ve merely read. It’s a nice edge to have and, when you write down your goal, you get to access the “generation effect” twice: first, when you generate the goal (create a picture in your mind), and second, when you write it down because you’re essentially reprocessing or regenerating that image. You have to rethink your mental picture, put it on the paper, place objects, scale them, think about their spatial relations, draw facial expressions, etc. There’s a lot of cognitive processing taking place right there. In essence, you get a double whammy that really sears the goal into your brain.

Study after study shows you will remember things better when you write them down. Typically, subjects for these types of studies are students taking notes in class. However, one group of researchers looked at people conducting hiring interviews. When the interviewers took notes about their interviews with each of the candidates, they were able to recall about 23% more nuggets of information from the interviews than people who didn’t take notes. Parenthetically, if you’re being interviewed for a job, and you want the interviewer to remember you, you better hope he or she is taking notes.

It’s not just general recall that improves when you write things down. Writing it down will also improve your recall of the really important information. You know how when you’re in a classroom setting there’s some stuff the teacher says that’s really important (i.e. it’ll be on the test) and then there’s the not so important (i.e. it won’t be on the test)? Well, one study found that when people weren’t taking notes in class, they remembered just as many unimportant facts as they did important facts (there’s a recipe for a “C”). But when people were taking notes, they remembered many more important facts and many fewer unimportant facts (and that, my friends, is the secret of “A” students).

Writing things down doesn’t just help you remember, it makes your mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important stuff. And your goals absolutely should qualify as truly important stuff.

Don't let the process be intimidating:

  • It's incredibly easy to allow yourself to overthink your goals. Start simple and try setting a 3-5 minute timer to eliminate the tendency to start worrying.

  • Understand that there will be roadblocks to consider. These can be overconfidence, lack of guidance, or just as simple as lack of resources along the way. Identify these doubts and have a backup plan to maneuver around them. Doubts and roadblocks are the main culprit that stops individuals from taking action to achieve their goals.

Sources: Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and the author of Hiring For Attitude. Forbes.

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