Plain and simple: goal setting is the master skill of success. Harnessing this master skill in the new year isn’t just about your convictions or your willingness to achieve a goal, but writing your goals down and turning them into actions.
For reference, a study conducted on the graduates of Harvard’s 1979 MBA program revealed some interesting statistics about writing down goals. In the study, the class was asked if they had clear, written goals for their futures. Of everyone surveyed, only 3% had goals written down, while 13% had goals but not down on paper, and 84% said they had no goals at all. Ten years later, the Class of 1979 was surveyed again. The end result showed the 13% with goals not written down earned twice as much annually compared to their goal-less classmates. As for the 3% who had written down goals, they were earning ten times more than the other 97% of their class.
Writing down your goals should be your top priority. Though, when it comes to achieving goals, I find it best to use the SMART system—that’s Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound. To help you visualize the SMART system, I’ll give you an example: At the beginning of the year, so many people try to commit themselves to fitness. But they say it just like that. They want to get in shape, and that’s it. Alternatively, if they really want to achieve the goal of living a healthier lifestyle, they should say something along the lines of, “I want to work out three times per week and lose 15 lbs by March 31st.” This goal is Specific; a clear result has been defined. This goal is Measurable; each task can be defined by how much time and effort it will take to complete. This goal is Actionable; there are tasks set to make the goal achievable. This goal is Realistic; you’re aware that some things take time and overexertion is counterproductive. This goal is Time-bound; a deadline has been set.
Once goals are committed to paper and applied to the SMART system, you can focus not only on implementing your action plan, but really getting down to the nitty gritty: Why do you want to achieve this goal? As far as our fitness goal is concerned, there’s a big difference between wanting to look good in the mirror and wanting to extend your life for the sake of your family. After that, goal setting is just a matter of focus.
In my firm, we talk about focus a lot. We talk about focusing on the bigger aspects of life, and managing what’s most important as opposed to what’s urgent. There will always be an urgent matter to deal with, and if you devote time to the urgent, it’s going to ultimately get in the way of your ability to focus on the important. You can’t let yourself get distracted, so appoint an accountability buddy or publicly declare your goals. You’ll be surprised at how motivated you can be when you know people are counting on you to follow through.