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Write Down Your Goals

Jan 11th, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

It’s that time of the year — time to look forward, to sit down with your electronic device and create your goals for 2013.

You do that, right? Every year? Goals?

If you don’t have a target, a destination you are moving toward, it doesn’t matter which direction you’re headed. You have no business complaining about anything if you don’t have goals. Why should it disturb you when something goes “wrong?” There’s nothing to contrast it with — how do you know it’s not what you want?

Not setting goals is simply an excuse to not change. I’m sure you’ve heard this one: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Well, not setting goals is even crazier, because you have no expectations at all. At least the insane are looking forward.

There have been studies out there — we don’t know how accurate they are — that indicate top achievers write out their goals and regularly revise them. I think that makes sense. Having grown up in the pre-computer age, I’m going to suggest that physically writing out your goals, with a pen or a pencil, is the best way to lock those targets into your subconscious. Humans have been writing for something like 8,000 years and the way we evolve physically is slower than how we evolve technologically, especially nowadays. So after about 5,000 of those 8,000 years, our nerve and brain connections evolved to process and retain information better when we picked up a writing instrument and scribbled things down. Keyboarding has been around for 100 years or something. I realize this is my own half-baked idea, but I know I remember something better if I write it down. Not type it, but write it.

Scott Adams, the author of the Dilbert cartoons, wrote a book several years back that went through the history of Dilbert. I don’t remember the title, but it’s in our house somewhere, and I read it back in 2002. The last chapter of the book, oddly enough, addresses goal-setting. Adams specifically recommends writing down a goal 15 times a day until it is achieved, or until you change it or, if it’s not working out, until you give up on it. He contends that if you do this, you are more likely to achieve it.

I decided to try it out on something that was important to me, even though it seems trivial to others, and it also had a large element of unpredictability, which I thought was interesting. For about two months, beginning in August, I wrote 15 times every day: During elk season, I shoot, kill, and harvest a trophy bull elk. Adams sets certain rules about the written goal: be specific, use present tense, and address action, not desire. If you write “I want to …,” it doesn’t matter what comes after, because you don’t have to do anything to achieve that goal. Wanting is not doing. I included the word “harvest” because I didn’t want to shoot an elk, wound it, and have it die without me finding it, which can happen.

Now I can have the proper equipment while hunting elk. I can do the hard work – be on the trail at daybreak, hunt till dark. I can scout an area before season to identify where I will be likely to find a trophy bull. But the bottom line is, if I don’t see a trophy bull, within range, during the four days that I have to kill an elk, there is no way I will do it. To put it in perspective, in the 20 years I had hunted elk prior to 2002, I had killed two elk, both spikes (not trophy). I had missed a few nice ones, but nothing I would consider a “trophy” bull. I don’t pay a guide to park me in front of a monster on a big game reserve. I’m out there in the state forest with everyone else, using a borrowed vehicle, eating Thuringer sandwiches.

On the third day of season, I drove around a corner on a forest road, my mom, who was with me, spotted an elk across a deep gulley, I put up my binoculars, saw it was a big bull, drove up the road about a quarter-mile, past another vehicle with hunters who apparently did not see this gigantic yellow animal standing out on a sharp ridge in the bright sunshine, ran down the point to a spot about 300 yards directly above the bull — a huge five-point — and shot it. Elapsed time from seeing the bull to shooting the bull: about ten minutes.

Now, was it all luck? No, I don’t think so. I was ready when the opportunity came, knew what to do, knew exactly where to get out and run down the hill, and executed the shot when I got there. My contention is that writing out the goal, every day, 15 times, with a pen or pencil, conditioned my brain and body to know what to do when the opportunity came. Maybe my focus on the goal put it out there for the universe to conspire to help me, and that’s why I ended up at the right place at the right time, but after two months of writing that sentence 15 times a day, I actually expected it to happen. I wasn’t surprised at all when it did.

So, as you sit down to write out your goals for 2013, I highly encourage you to sharpen the pencil, pull out the notebook paper, and let your brain and body do what it knows how to do. f you are really serious about one or two of those goals, try Scott Adams’ technique. Let me know how it turns out.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper