What’s the First Step in Achieving Your Goals? Writing Them Down

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We’ve all heard about the benefits of list making and journaling, but it’s still difficult to imagine a notebook of plans having any real impact on the future. You have your goals in your head, after all. Isn’t that enough? Not so, says growing bodies of neuroscience research. In fact, taking the time to physically write down your goals is a powerful action for your mind. 


Writing Down Your Goals Makes It More Likely That You’ll Achieve Them

There are several ways that physically documenting your goals affects your brain. 

Writing down your goals makes them real and concrete for your memory and motivation, as opposed to just abstract thoughts in your brain. After you’ve written down your goals, you can then post them where you are able to see them throughout the day. This kind of visual reminder works to help you successfully achieve your goals. A few years ago, a Harvard Business Study even found that people who wrote down their goals were three times more likely to achieve them than people who didn’t record their goals. In other studies, people who imagined their goals through writing or drawing were said to be nearly twice as likely to achieve them. 

Another fascinating brain fact? Your brain is more likely to commit your goals to long term memory (a process known as encoding) when you’ve written them down. Of course, the more solidly that you remember your goals, the easier it will be to succeed. 


Writing Changes Your Memory (and Goal-Setting) for the Better

Back in the 1970s, a study known as “the generation effect” was conducted to see if people could more easily remember things they’d read or things they’d written down. The writers had the stronger memory.

College students who take notes in paper form have also been shown to remember the material better than students who either didn’t take notes or took the notes on a laptop. Quickly typing on a computer or phone doesn’t engage the kind of complex processes in the brain that are associated with a stronger memory. Instead, it is the slow, careful nature of handwriting that triggers valuable cognitive processes within the brain. 

When you write down your goals, your brain forms images and makes connections with your goals. You are concentrating and focusing on your plans. Ultimately, this kind of continued mental engagement can make the difference in you achieving or not achieving your goal. 


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