Use Written Goals to Pursue Your Dreams

A few months ago, my wife and some of her friends decided to start a book club. They recently held their second meeting, at which they discussed Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture. My wife and I both attended Carnegie Mellon University, where Professor Pausch taught. He was very well known even before his Last Lecture, and so my wife was looking forward to the book discussion.

Professor Pausch's lesson in his Last Lecture is to always enthusiastically pursue your dreams, regardless of how out of reach they seem. Pausch was a man who achieved many of his childhood dreams by the time he died at age 47. It's unfortunate he didn't have more time.

After the book group meeting, my wife thought of some goals she'd written down for herself when she was in sixth grade. When she got home, she told me about her goals, how she had forgotten about them after all these years, and how they were still important to her. I asked if she still had the list. She found it and we looked them over. Then, I walked into the other room, put the piece of paper in a frame, and put her list of goals on the desk.

One of the best techniques you can use to achieve your goals is to write them down and constantly remind yourself of them. It's the reason manufacturing floors have signs saying they've been incident free for X days. Of course they wish to remain incident free every day, but the sign acts as a reminder of their goal. Written goals work. Here are some real-life examples of how people use written goals to achieve their dreams:

  • I post my goals on a whiteboard in my office where I see them while I work.
  • I recommend that people with credit card debt write the balances on their cards as a reminder of their goals.
  • Trent of The Simple Dollar keeps himself frugal by putting his credit cards in a sleeve with a picture of his children on it.
  • Nickel wrote his goals on Five Cent Nickel and told the whole world about them.

Now my wife's framed goals sit on her dresser. Every single day, she'll see her list of goals, the ones she made in the sixth grade, and be reminded of them. I'll see those goals, too. They're our goals. And one day we'll achieve them all.

J.D.'s note: I set written goals every year. In fact, I believe that the road to wealth is paved with goals, and encourage others to set them too.

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john
john
12 years ago

Not only do you need to write your goals down, you need to re-read and re-adjust them as you move along. I try to task out my goals through outlook tasks. That way they are in my face all the time and pop up on the desktop when i forget about them. I use a similar concept with working out, if my gym shoes and equipment right there, then i am more likely to use them. Same with finance, if you have a spreadsheet on your desktop where you track investments and expenses, you can limit one and grow the… Read more »

Adam
Adam
12 years ago

I replied to this several minutes ago, but apparently the software ate my post.

If you want to get really serious about setting and achieving goals then I encourage everyone to take a look at the Getting Things Done system.

Look here for a good primer (and a good productivity site):
http://www.43folders.com/2004/09/08/getting-started-with-getting-things-done

Metroknow
Metroknow
12 years ago

Thanks for this post. I use a combination of visual tools – I have two whiteboards in my office – one that I bought new long, long ago, and one that I made out of a big sheet of plexiglass. I use one for specific goals, and the other for mind mapping and as a random idea catcher. The other tool I use is Samurize for my Windows computer (I don’t have one for my Mac). I track story ideas in a simple text file, and it displays them on my desktop dynamically. When I’m struggling to find a subject… Read more »

Mathieu
Mathieu
12 years ago

Great post Jimmy. I think that everyone should have their own system, find what works for them. I use my bedroom wall, with 2 billboards, a ton of sheets posted on them and a few notebooks. Works for me. =)

A. Dawn
A. Dawn
12 years ago

I believe in Journey, not in destination. Goals should be a part of the journey; don’t make goals your destination. Life is not a destination; it’s a journey. The journey is the destination.
A. Dawn

Shanel Yang
Shanel Yang
12 years ago

Great post! It reminded me of “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It’s important not to let go of our childhood dreams. They in fact help us realize what will truly make us happy as adults. I wrote about that in my post “Childhood Happiness” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/07/25/all-about-you-day-3-childhood-happiness/

Pamela
Pamela
12 years ago

I have my goals written out as appointments on my Google Calendar, and i think they work for me. I set them up early this year, and during a particular funk when I didn’t think things were working out as I hoped, I got an automated e-mail from myself through the google calendar before one of my goal dates and some inspirational quotation which had a lot of relevance to myself. I had forgotten about the appointments, and it sort of helped to kick me back onto track.

Andys
Andys
12 years ago

Great points. I keep my short and medium term goals typed in a small piece of paper in my wallet. Whenever I have some free time with nothing to do (like waiting for a bus/train), I try and review and see how I am tracking. Another good avenue is a blog, and that is what I try and do on mine by publicly stating my goals, like $300 in passive income by year end. This gives me a certain level of accountability. If you don’t have a blog, share your goals with those closest to you. Also when setting goals,… Read more »

Venecia
Venecia
12 years ago

I just wrote an article on that very topic! Gee, now I feel like a creepy stalker.

Grant
Grant
12 years ago

I’ve done the same as Nickel (above) and have posted my goals online. At the very least it keeps me honest between my family and friends and serves as a constant reminder for my plans this year and in the next.

Beth
Beth
12 years ago

I thought the fact your wife had her goals from when she was 6, very sweet. I’m dying to know what they are (even though I know it’s not my busines). Dying all the same.

Nice post.

jim
jim
12 years ago

Great post.

I have all my goals on a sheet of paper next to my computer in my office. I have both business and personal goals. It is exciting to see the goals achieved over time. We had the goal to pay off our house. We paid it off in 10 years. Thanks for the great reminder.

Jill
Jill
12 years ago

Conscious goal-setting is a relatively — and powerful — thing for me. During a conversation with a friend a couple of years ago, I realized: (1) I had goals, but they all developed organically (or even spontaneously) and not as part of a deliberate process; and (2) All of my goals related to my professional life — not my personal life. Since then, I’ve tried a more intentional approach and found out that the process of goal-setting is valuable in and of itself, in terms of identifying priorities and areas of one’s life that could benefit from more attention and… Read more »

Karl Staib - Your Work Happiness Matters
Karl Staib - Your Work Happiness Matters
12 years ago

Never thought to post it on a white board, but that’s a good idea. It’s always right there in your face, reminding you to stay on track.

Excellent guest post!

Tabs
Tabs
12 years ago

Great post, accomplishing goals is all about keeping them in your immediate presence. I find starting the week with goals posted on the wall on Sunday night, because some Tuesday mornings I wake up and I don’t even know my name, talk less of what my goals are. I use everything I can get my hands on to keep myself focused. Thanks for the reminder.

-Tabs

jeffrey strain
jeffrey strain
12 years ago

Just to add on, be sure to also break those goals down into small step mini goals. I used to write down goals, but they seemed so far away that I could never motivate myself to start them even when they were right in front of me. It wasn’t until I began to break them down into mini steps so I had the goal and what step I needed to take next that I really began to move toward them in a forceful way.

Robert
Robert
12 years ago

I agree with your advice to write down your goals, but why do you want to ‘Get rich slowly’?
Set ambitious goals and always aim at getting rich fast. I am not referring to all the get rich quick scam on the net, but there are many surefire ways to get rich fast. But before being able to implement them you have to change your way of thinking. Get rid of the ‘slow’ mentality. I did it.

Lily
Lily
12 years ago

What if it’s hard even to keep on doing what you like and be paid for that?
Dreams, yeah, I had lots of those but I don’t want to live a life of frustration if I don’t achieve them.

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
12 years ago

There’s a great bit about the power of writing things down in a book called Influence by Robert Cialdini. It talks about how POWs in Korea were forced to write disparaging things about their country. Once that happened, a lot of them were faced with explaining what they wrote down and they began to defend what they had written. Crazy huh?

Paul Williams
Paul Williams
12 years ago

@Robert:

So what are your “surefire” ways to get rich fast? If there really were “surefire” ways, wouldn’t we as a society have realized those ways and everyone have used them?

I can think of some “surefire” ways to poverty though…and they’re often disguised as “surefire” ways to get rich fast.

Kendra
Kendra
12 years ago

I put my financial goals for the year on 3×5″ index cards and stack them in order of importance on my dresser. When I’ve met one, I write the date “accomplished” on the back in marker, and put it to the bottom of the stack. And because I see the topmost card every morning as I’m getting dressed, the goals stay in my mind.

At the end of the year, the “accomplished” cards all go to a filing box. When I get frustrated, I can riffle through the cards and see how far I’ve come. It’s great!

Scott Andrews
Scott Andrews
12 years ago

It’s always useful to plan our goals and write them down. I’m an advocate of using journals, mind maps, collages, and 3×5 index cards (for the actual goals), then transferring cardboard and paper to software with Dream Board software, Mind Movie software, and revising our goals regularly as we achieve/realize/become them and as we want to grow and do more.

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