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Goal Setting
Hasse Jansen, 04 Aug '16

How to Write Down Your Goals and Write History

Finding it hard to write down goals? Hemingway struggled writing but eventually triumphed. Surprisingly, famous book authors’ quotes about writing can teach you how to write perfect goals.

Although there are plenty of goal setting stats floating around the web, not all of them are true. Like the claim that “73.6% of all statistics are made up”.

Some frequently cited sources turned out to be an urban myth. You may have heard of the one reporting that ‘the 3% of students who had written goals earned on average 10 times as much as the other 97% of the class combined, 20 years later’.

Thought provoking, but sadly it has never been proven. No such research has been conducted. I am 99% sure ;-)

Luckily, the hype around this goal setting myth did cause researchers to put on their white coats and actually investigate the effectiveness of goal setting.

It turns out the legitimate results were arguably just as impressive as the myth: those who write down goals are 42% more likely to achieve their goals than those who don’t write goals down.

Why is writing goals so hard?

The report does not list any reasons for ‘why’ writing down goals appears to make people more effective. It also doesn’t reveal why writing down goals is often much harder than we think, despite the many goal setting acronyms and templates that are available to start you off right. You might start to feel a bit embarrassed.

Luckily, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Many literary masters have skillfully and concisely worded what makes writing so hard for them. Hardly a surprise they can, since they’re writers. Writing entire books, however, is harder than even their authors thought.

It seems many quotes by literary masters about writing books apply to writing down goals too. Hardly a surprise marketers can fill up a to do list, but setting proper goals is always incredibly hard for everyone.

Guided by some brillant qoutes about the pain and glory of writing, let me explain why writing down goals is so hard, and why mastering it should be everyone’s primary goal.

Asking ‘why’ is an uncomfortable investment, with great returns

Although it may look simple at first, deciding on which goal to pursue can be incredibly hard. You’ll have to become very specific about what you want to achieve. That means asking yourself ‘why’ it is you do things, while all you’ve been doing up until now is ask ‘how’. Inevitably, your first attempts will leave room for improvement.

Boardview goal setting quote hemingway

This should not a be a reason not to do it. It didn’t stop Hemingway. The (emotional) investment is considerable, and that is why so many don’t even start, but the payoff is huge.

Envisioning in great detail is hard

If you don’t write you goals down and you just keep it floating around your head for a couple of years, you tend to become sloppy: “well, you know, I know it’s not perfect, but I know what I mean in the back of my mind.” You’ll be tempted to glance over things and cut yourself too much slack.

Shorter letter quote tile boardview

Do yourself a favor: try to write down that ‘obvious’ thing that has been catching dust in the back of your mind. Chances are that the “obvious” is not so obvious on paper. If you can’t explain your goal clearly, it’s clearly not good enough. You basically generate noise.

boardview goal setting quote hemingway kerouac

If you’re one of the few that acknowledges his goals aren’t all too clear, don’t just wait it out. Don’t be all too proud that you’ve acknowledged the problem and now expect the universe to reward your ‘performance’ with a neatly packaged solution to it. Specificity won’t suddenly come to you from a sea of vagueness. If you wait for ‘the right moment’ to start setting goals, you’ll never even get to that stage.

boardview goal setting quote london
Invite imperfection to hit you in the face and improve

Like a sculptor, you’ll need to create something to walk around a couple of times to see what’s wrong with it, and how it can be improved. Write your goals down and force yourself to read over them a dozen times. Dare to apply newfound knowledge to improve upon them. In constantly changing business environments, you’ll be reviewing your goals every (couple of) week(s). You need to be on top of your goals like you are on top of your last email or post-it note.

boardview goal setting quote hemingway 2

Writing a goal down will cause its imperfections to hit you in the face as long as you don’t manage to improve upon it. You’ll become the business version of one of those writers who swears his job is the worst in the world, wrestling his words into the right position all through the night, until the sun comes up and everything finally makes sense.

boardview goal setting quote mann

It’s a tough, creative exercise that many are hesitant to even start. But questioning yourself and your goals more thoroughly will eventually make you set better goals and achieve more success. If you make the investment to take a step back and teach yourself to always ask ‘why’ you do things until you’ve found the answer, you’ll always know that what you’re doing is useful.

It feels great to have the reassurance that what you’re doing adds value. It feels great to write down goals.