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5 Science-Backed Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals



Science backed goal setting

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.”

-Tony Robbins

Don’t let lethargy keep you from getting ahead. Make an effort to learn why long term and short term goals are necessary for a person’s overall success in life.  

Social media posts on success/entrepreneurship/self-help seem to be brimming with the SMART(S-specific, M-measurable, A-attainable, R-realistic, T-target oriented) technique for setting and achieving your goals. Logically, this technique makes a lot of sense, but the concepts are a bit difficult to understand for people who are just learning about “Success.” So, they come across as a bunch of clever sounding words and nothing else.

People who don’t set goals fail most of the time; they just don’t realize it or they rationalize to avoid the pain of being seen as a loser. There are many reasons why someone might live their life without having clear goals in mind. Insecurity, low self-esteem, being surrounded by the wrong people, coming from a low socio-economic class are just some of the common reasons stopping people from thinking clearly.

The never-to-be-forgotten story of Hungarian soldier Karoly Takacs is a classic example of how a burning desire to achieve something coupled with proper planning can lead a person to glory.

During a military training session, Takacs lost his right hand, his shooting hand, when a grenade exploded in his vicinity. Hence, his dream of winning a gold medal in the Olympics was shattered.

Most of his relatives and colleagues consoled him and thought that the poor lad has accepted his fate and moved on. But Takacs continued his practice patiently with his left hand and won two gold medals in the next few years.

5 Steps to Setting and Achieving Your Goals:

1. Define the Goal

Science backed goal setting

Without a clear, written down goal, your desire to achieve something just becomes a wish. You can dream or talk about it all you want, but until you write it down on a piece of paper, it remains a half-hearted attempt.

Likewise, visualization is a great tool that many of us are blessed with. Our ability to step into the shoes of another person and see the world the way they see is what makes us human and separates us from other primates. You don’t have to write down the exact figure that you want to earn this year or make a picture of the girl/guy you want to have in your life. You can start by simply writing down vague, high-level goals first and then revise them as you go.

“A goal, however, is something distinctly different from a wish. It is clear, written, and specific. It can be quickly and easily described to another person. You can measure it, and you know when you have achieved it or not.”  

-Brian Tracy

So, write it down, make a big statement to yourself and get accountability from people around you.

Character traits of a person who sets and achieves goals:


  • are trustworthy
  • live their life with purpose
  • believe in sharing and not taking
  • lead themselves and others
  • help others achieve their goals too
  • give their best whether things are going their way or not

Character traits of someone who doesn’t operate with goals in mind:


  • always look for shortcuts
  • don’t work well with deadlines
  • let people down in high-pressure situations
  • only perform when things are going their way

2. Pay Attention to the “Why”

In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek explains the significance of “why” in business and life in general. He says if your “why” is clear, the “how-to” will follow. A lot of people get bogged down in finding the right method or technique to get the thing they want but are dishonest about why they want that thing in their lives in the first place.

Without a strong purpose, life becomes meaningless. A lot of people start their venture with a bang, but as things move further, they slowly start to feel demotivated. In the midst of difficulties, they quit because they don’t know what makes them tick.  

“Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement. Think on paper and write them down!”

-Brian Tracy

3. Collect Resources

Science backed goal setting

Being a resourceful person is another prerequisite for becoming a winner. A resourceful person has enough personal connections, time and money needed to reach their goal. As a result, they don’t underestimate any of the above mentioned three factors.

Free resources like books, YouTube videos, etc. are available to you all the time if you don’t have the money to invest. Money invested in books and educational training always gives huge returns. Moreover, successful authors like Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, Robert Greene, etc. put their heart and soul in putting their life’s learnings in a few hundred pages of a book; which costs no more than a few bucks.

Also, attend meetups and socialize to understand the learning curve of other people. For instance, looking outwards and understanding other people’s problems and situations helps in developing empathy. Most people will argue that we are born with empathy and don’t need to develop it, but not everyone has the psychic ability to read others’ minds. Conversely, some of us need to get out of our shell and put ourselves in social situations to learn what we couldn’t develop naturally.

4. Build Momentum

It’s not necessary to do everything right at the beginning of a project. Most people wait for the right moment, or they keep learning; watching videos, reading books, to feel fully confident and deserving of the task they wish to commence. These are all signs of procrastination. In short, the right thing is to just start and improve each day.

Darren Hardy in his book The Compound Effect talks about how seemingly insignificant things we do each day can add up to affect our lives in the long run. You can build enough momentum to succeed if you take a tiny amount of action each day in the direction of your goal.

5. Journal Every Day

Science backed goal setting

You’ve probably noticed that knowing where you have reached in your journey to achieving your goal is very difficult. If only there was a way to measure it. Keeping a daily journal is a great way to keep track of your progress. Let’s take a closer look at how it can help in setting and achieving your goals.

Monitor your thoughts and behaviors by jotting down things that are currently bothering you. Most problems disappear once you bring them into awareness.

Evolutionarily, humans are social creatures. We need comfort and support of others who are on the same path as we are. Do not ignore the human need for accountability.

Being unclear about what needs to be done takes up a lot of time in needless trial and error. Yes, there is a time for trial and error but not when you are on a deadline and under pressure to achieve your goal in a limited time period.

Recent research shows that journaling every day can enhance self-reflection, ability to articulately express feelings and develop critical thinking.

Setting and achieving your goals isn’t just about collecting good resources, building momentum and daily journaling. Recent research suggests that you also model the habits of successful people and practice them until they become second nature to you.

Nobody likes to fail. The person who least deserves to fail is you. So give yourself a chance to succeed.


Why Writing Down Goals Can Help You Achieve Them Faster



goal setting is imp

I don’t remember how many times I’ve read about how important goal setting is. Every successful person out there vouches for it and there are numerous studies showing the benefits of writing down your goals. Every person, whether they write their goals down or not, has shared a quote about goals.

The point here is, writing down a goal really does help. Let’s find out why and how.

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

-Napoleon Hill

What do you remember the most from college? The stuff you read or the stuff you actually worked on? Definitely, the stuff that you worked on, because you consciously chose to pay attention to it. When you read for an exam you do that only to pass the exam most of the times but when you actually apply it, it is because you want to learn it and that is when you remember. You are an active participant here.

The same logic goes here. We all read the ‘Scientists say’ posts and at least give them the benefit of doubt. Well, here we really have a scientific term to explain why writing down goals help. It is called the generation effect. What it basically means is that, you remember information more when you have generated it with your own mind than when you have read it. There’s no one specific answer to why it happens but a lot of studies have been conducted on it, and this phenomenon is used in quite a few things. You can also use it to help with memory retention, but that is a topic for another day.

“Goals that are not written down are just wishes.”

So, let’s say, setting a goal helps trigger the generation effect because you are the one creating it. There is still no guarantee it will affect you much. Yes, you will remember it better but it will be lost in all the thoughts your mind generates.

To make it worthwhile, we write it down. I have a few things that can explain why it helps us, one of them being that we retain visual cues better. Much of our sensory cortex is devoted to vision, in fact, the part of the brain that processes words is quite small. Visual clues are easier for our brain to remember, which is why most people can sit through hours of TV shows but not finish a book.

Writing down your goal and visiting it every day has that effect on us, it creates a reminder daily that this is something you need to work on. This is something you wish to achieve. When you keep looking at it, you are reminded day after day about what your purpose is and why you wanted to achieve that goal in the first place.

Another thing and an important one at that, is encoding. Our memory has the ability to encode, store, and recall information. By writing your goals down, you are storing it externally by putting it on paper. Now, by visiting it again and again, we are encoding it into our brains. There are few intensively used types of encoding. Two types are at work here, Visual encoding and Elaborative encoding.

Visual encoding is pretty straightforward to understand. For elaborative encoding, a little narrative will be needed. It means actively retaining new information to the knowledge of something that is already present in our memory.

Let’s look at it this way, I write down that I want to buy a new car. Generation effect kicks in. I write it on a post-it note and look at it daily, visual coding kicks in. Now, I remember how my old car keeps giving me trouble, this is when elaborative encoding kicks in because we are going to remember it by how it made us feel. This is connecting the old knowledge of my car giving me trouble with the new information that I need to buy a new car.

This is the scientific support to the claim that works for me. To put it in layman’s term, you remember something you look at daily. It makes you feel guilty the longer you don’t do anything about it and see the sad post-it at the same place every day. One day you decide, enough is enough, and finally get down to doing it.

Basically, writing your goals down helps you increase your motivation, concentrate your efforts, track your progress, filter opportunity, and finally helps you turn it into reality.

At the end of the day, action is what matters. By writing your words down, you make a small mark and set the ball rolling.

“Set ambitious goals and along the way you will discover yourself.”

-Robin Suomi

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How Setting Realistic Goals Can Actually Help You Achieve Them



My best friend always looms over my shoulder saying, “You either do or you don’t. There’s no try. Try gives you that little escape road, that you did it but didn’t succeed. Burn that road down.”

That is what unrealistic goals do to you, as I have learned recently. Setting goals is important, being ambitious is important as well, but getting over ambitious is where the problem lies for many people.

When a lot of people begin writing their goals down, one of the common mistakes they make is writing a plethora of vague stuff down. Now, immeasurable goals help no one. I could say that my goal is to lose enough weight. How much is enough? When do I stop? When there’s no measurable parameter, it is difficult to mark that goal as achieved and marking goals as completed is what drives you to get to your next goal.

Imagine having hundreds of immeasurable goals written down, all it is going to do is stress you out. Now, consider me saying that I want to lose 10 kgs, we have a measure here and I know when to stop. After losing 10 kgs, I can check it off my list. Do you sense the satisfaction here?

Realistic goals are closely related to this. There’s no point in making a mile long list when you won’t be achieving even one of them, right? This mostly happens with daily goals, short term goals, to-do lists.

For example, I used to write a ton of things that I needed to do to achieve a bigger goal that day. When you look at your bigger goal as a whole, it is going to overwhelm you. ou try to do a lot at once, but most of the times, it doesn’t work out; hence you get discouraged.

Let’s say you are an author and you aim to finish writing a book in one month, which is your deadline. Now, your goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

In one scenario, without considering your schedule and appointments for the 30 days, treating all days as equal, you decide to write 5,000 words a day to stay ahead, so that even if you fail a few days, you will still be on schedule. Do you understand the amount of stress this can put on your mind?

There are going to be last minute things to attend to, it is life, after all. There are going to be good days and bad days. On the days you are unable to meet the deadline, and that is going to be a lot of days, you will keep losing your motivation bit by bit and the backlog that you created on your own, will weigh your resolve down. In the end, you will not manage to finish it or even if you do, it will be at the cost of your mental peace.

In another scenario, you divide the work. Now, you need to write 1,667 words per day to achieve your goal. This seems achievable and puts your mind at rest. Even on busy days, you can write a small amount and on the days you are feeling more productive, you can write double the amount because you have already achieved that day’s goal. This actually puts you ahead of your schedule, and even if you miss a day or two, you can easily catch up the next day because it won’t be an insane amount of piled up work.

How do you know that the goals you are setting for yourself are realistic? Do this exercise: write down your main goal and the timeframe you would like to achieve it in, divide it into workable chunks, now target each chunk and decide what you need to do every day to achieve it.

When you have this down, a weight lifts off your mind. All you have to focus on now is how to achieve the daily goals. From my hits and misses of goals setting in real life, I have found out that setting just 3 goals for the day helps.

If it is a busy day, jot down more manageable goals. Even in the three that you decide, don’t have all the heavy tasks at once. Once you complete the 3 goals of the day you can always add more. That gives you a sense of being on track because when you write down 10 and achieve only 5, it feels like a failure, but when you write 3 and achieve 5, it feels like a success.

In the end, it’s about achieving your goals in reality than on paper so making realistic goals makes far more sense, doesn’t it?

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