There is a tale often told in business circles, at training sessions and among managers, about a study carried out in Harvard (or maybe Yale, depending on who is telling the anecdote), in which researchers found that only 3% of graduates in the given year had specific written goals. When the researchers revisited this graduating class some years later, they found that those who had their goals selected and also written out for themselves upon graduation earned ten times more than the others.
When encouraging people to set - and specifically to write down - their goals in their personal lives, work and other aspects of life, the story is a powerful one. But it is, also, just that: a story. There never was such research at either Harvard or Yale, although the idea of writing down goals in order to publicly commit to them seems to be so intuitively appealing that even without any actual research, the principle has become accepted.
Moving on, and research to prove the theory was, actually, carried out at a later date by Dominican University. The findings go beyond the original urban myth, and may hold the secret to achieving your goals.
Write them down
The Dominican research involved five different groups, who were asked to take different approaches to their medium term goals. One group simply thought about them, another wrote them down, a further group wrote action commitments based around their goals, with final groups taking these steps but also sharing their goals with a friend or committing to weekly progress reports to the study. The research found that in the groups who wrote their goals down, the achievement of them over the time period was significantly higher than the first group who were simply asked to think about their aims in vague terms. This reflects the original hypothesis that came from the Harvard urban myth, and demonstrates the power of putting pen to paper. Somehow turning a thought process into a tangible, written, goal, is incredibly useful in crystallising goals and ambition.
Make a public commitment
The next important factor found by researchers was that sharing ones aims with a supportive friend increased your likelihood of achieving them. This form of public commitment is similar to the principles used in weight loss groups, in which a goal weight is set and group meetings offer shared support and help along the way. Just as these groups can prove an effective resource for those dieting; the same ideas can help in the broader achievement of goals. Choose a supportive friend, partner or family member - or find and develop a relationship with a mentor - to help you on your road to success.
Hold yourself accountable
The final finding of the research was that the most successful group of all were those who agreed to send in weekly progress reports detailing what had been achieved in relation to get goals set. This accountability - again used in situations from weight loss and addiction recovery, to life coaching and business training - makes you more likely to retain focus and momentum when working towards goals. To replicate it for yourself, try pairing up with a friend to meet and discuss progress, or choose a time to self assess your work to date. By setting a calendar reminder and treating the thinking time as an appointment, you are more likely to actually spend time examining your goals and how you are proceeding towards them. Depending on your actual aim, there may even be an app to help - for example using online running trackers which remind you of your weekly training commitments, if your end goal is to put in some extra miles or train for a marathon.
Success in any field is never easy, and giving yourself the best possible shot at achieving your goals is important. Following these principles, and investing some time and effort to achieve the things important in life, will help you take the most direct route to success.