My high school physics teacher had an unconventional method for preparing her students for their final exam. She allowed us to get a 3 x 5 index card and write as much information as we could on it. Then she let us bring it into the exam and use it to answer the questions.
So we all got the finest-point pen available and curled our hands into claws, so we could cram as many equations and theorems as we could on the card. And of course we thought it was amazing that she would let us “cheat” like that.
But an interesting thing happened when I took that exam. I barely had to even look at the card.
My physics teacher knew this would happen, which is why she let us do it. It turns out that when you write things down, that information is imprinted on your brain. And although it’s true that you remember something if you memorize it, you remember it more if you also write it down.
This is a key point in your quest to achieve a goal — and it’s not just to remember what the goal is. If information sticks indelibly in your mind, you’re also more likely to act on it. And the foundation of all goal achievement is action.
However, all too often, we have no plan at all. For some reason we let our day-to-day existence take over and never create a meaningful and direct path toward our goals — including the goals we’re desperate to achieve.
I know this has been true for me. I don’t know how many weeks of my life I woke up, wishing I could just lose weight — and then spinning my wheels, doing the back-and-forth of bingeing and restricting, never getting anywhere. And yes I dieted and tried to adhere to the diet’s plan . . . but following diet directions isn’t the same thing as creating your own plan and motivating yourself to stick with it.
But sometimes you feel so demoralized that you think, “Why bother?” Especially if you’ve failed over and over again. And you really don’t want a visual reminder of stuff you probably won’t do anyway — and then feel like a total failure when you don’t get to check off all the boxes.
But I promise you, nothing will ensure your success more than writing it down will. Even though it feels like it’s pointless, just the act of writing down a goal and a plan for achievement is what gives you the feeling of control and confidence you need to be successful.
And checking off every single box isn’t the point. Checking off five tasks out of ten is way better than having nothing to check off at all. And writing down your goals and falling short is way better than only wishing you could do something and never doing it. Especially when you have limitless power to do it.
One of the biggest problems is that if you don’t have a plan, circumstances will dictate that you’ll take the path of least resistance when you’re frustrated, angry, tired, or bored. That’s when it’s all too easy to say, “I’ll start on Monday.”
There is ample evidence that writing things down increases your chances of success. A study by Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University in California showed that you’re 42% more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down. And according to Forbes magazine, the brain sorts information in order to retain what’s relevant (I have to catch a flight at 6:45) and discard what isn’t (Those flowers are really pretty). So writing down a goal ensures that it gets burned into your brain. Then your brain also gets a huge boost by having a visual reminder of it, written on paper and there for you to see every day.
So here are three areas to focus on if you want to increase your odds of achieving your weight-loss goal:
Write down your goals. This is the most important, and they need to be as specific as possible. Most of us say, “I want to lose weight,” which is about as aimless a goal as saying that you want to get in your car and drive somewhere. And here I have to put in my disclaimer: it’s not about losing weight. But I am well aware that if you’re reading this post, you do in fact want to lose weight.
But here’s the thing: if you want to lose weight, what you really want is the life you’ll live once you do. So write those things down, too. Do you want to wear a bikini on your beach trip this year? Write it down. Do you want to have toned arms? Do you want to have clear, glowing skin? Do you want to look and feel your best as you’re heading into your 40s? Write it all down.
Visualizing the life you want goes hand-in-hand with writing your goals down. The more you visualize what you want, the clearer your goals will be. And the clearer they are, the easier it will be to achieve them.
Write down your meal plan. You already know how easy it is to grab whatever you see when you’re hungry — and it’s even easier to grab something when you’re irritated at the end of a long day. But if you have a plan for what you’re eating, and you have it written down, you’ll be a lot less likely to deviate.
Plan your meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks — for at least two days. Then make a grocery list with everything you’ll need to prepare all of it. Even better, do it when you’re not hungry. Then you’ll probably be more creative with your meals, which means they’ll be healthier.
Another benefit is that if you’ve written down what you’re going to eat, you’ll spend the time between meals anticipating what you’re going to eat next. And if you’re thinking about what you are going to eat, it takes your mind of what you’re trying not to eat.
Write down your workout schedule. I just this minute signed up for a barre class and put it in my calendar — which is what led me to write this post! I’ve been meaning to get to a class for several weeks now, and I haven’t done it. I signed up a few times, but then I canceled at the last minute. And I attribute that to not having written it down.
I always remember something Marie Forleo says: If it’s not scheduled, it’s not real. And it’s a lot harder to skip a workout if you have it written in your calendar.
Also, write down exactly what you’re going to do. This is especially important if you’re doing your own workout. If you want to go for a run in the morning, it really helps to decide exactly what you’re going to do. Write down the route you’ll take. Write down how many minutes you’ll stay on the treadmill. Write down the sit-up or leg-lift routine you’ll do. Then when you get started, you’ll have something to go by and be less likely to quit mid-routine.
Having a plan is so important to your success. But if you go one step further and write it down, you’ll be even more successful.
It’s kind of crazy that we resist doing something small like this, because it requires hardly any effort. But it’s so worth it. So go get a pen and some paper, and start writing — right now!
Just the simple act of doing it will make you feel more confident and in control — and that’s what you need to achieve any goal.