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The Goal Setting Activity That Makes a Big Impact


This is my last article for a while, so I really wanted this one to make an impact and stay with you. Even though the amazing CMI editorial team wanted me to write about marketing, I wrote this instead (ha).

Occasionally, I’ll do an interview where someone will ask: “What’s the one thing you did that made the greatest impact to where you are at now?”

It’s my favorite question, both because it’s the easiest to answer and something that almost no one does. The answer is about setting goals. I’ll get to the specific formula below, but first, let’s take a step back.

Do you have goals?

How many people do you know that set goals for their life and career? In my experience, it’s a low percentage.

Of that low percentage, how many of those people write those goals down? Also, a low percentage.

Of those people who write down their goals, how many review them on a regular basis? An even smaller number.

I’ve found that the majority of people just exist. They follow some daily pattern that they accidentally fell into. They get up, work, do some things, go to bed, repeat this process, and are generally unhappy with their “chosen” life. Now, there is nothing wrong with this, but it’s not how I would choose to live.

I’ve also found that these same people believe the majority of life is out of their control. Someone is always to blame for the circumstance and nothing can be done (again, this has been my experience).

If you believe you can’t, you’re right

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

I have the professional opportunity to meet with people from all over the world. Sometimes I give advice, and sometimes people listen (crazy, right?). What I’ve learned through these meetings is if people believe they cannot do something – for whatever reason – they are 100% correct.

If people believe they cannot do something, they are 100% correct, says @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

If a person believes he or she didn’t get the job because of where he or she went to school or the chosen hire had the inside track, that person is correct. The only way that person will ever get the job he or she wants is to first change the belief. Easy to say, hard to do … but it must be done.

How can this be fixed? Don’t focus on why something cannot be done, begin at the end.

Beginning with the end in mind

“Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.” – Brian Tracy

Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor, says @briantracy. Click To Tweet

I went through a long period of not feeling successful, though, in hindsight, it’s more accurate to say I didn’t really know what success was. I graduated from Bowling Green State University (just south of Toledo, Ohio) with a degree in interpersonal communications. My major had been “undecided” until the beginning of my junior year. The only reason I chose interpersonal communications was because it was the only degree I could pursue that would allow me to graduate on time.

As I came close to graduation, I felt like sports marketing was something I’d be good at. I was lucky enough to get an internship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the professional basketball team, after graduation. But after finding out that all the money went to the players (the operations team works very long hours for very little pay), I decided to go to graduate school.

With two weeks left before fall semester, someone dropped out of the teaching assistantship program at Penn State University, leaving an opening for yours truly. I taught four semesters of public speaking and ended up with a master’s degree in communications.

Overeducated and underexperienced, I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to find a job. After sending seemingly hundreds of resumes with no luck, I removed the master’s degree from my resume and started to do temp work. After a few month-long work engagements, I landed a full-time job at an insurance company, working on internal communications projects.

Shortly after starting my new job, I read the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It made a huge impact on how I defined success and what I really wanted to do with my life. Though I read the book cover to cover, I felt particularly compelled to remember one powerful passage:

Opportunity has spread its wares before you. Step up to the front, select what you want, create your plan, put the plan into action, and follow through with persistence.

It was then I started to set goals for my life

Next, I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. The second habit is “begin with the end in mind,” which means:

 … to begin each day, task, or project with a clear vision of your desired direction and destination, and then continue by flexing your proactive muscles to make things happen.

It was then I started to write down my goals

After three years and a few promotions at the insurance company, I left for a new opportunity at Penton Media, the (then) largest independent B2B media company in North America. It was there that I expanded on my education, learning the world of media communication, marketing communications, and corporate content creation. It was at Penton where I learned the power of listening to an audience and the various business models that made media companies work.

In March 2007, I decided to leave Penton Media, where I was vice president of custom media, primarily because I didn’t feel I had any real influence over the direction of the company (one of my written goals was to have influence at whatever job I was in). I left and started what was to become the Content Marketing Institute.

In that same year, research conducted by Gail Matthews from Dominican University showed that people who wrote down their goals, shared with a friend, and sent weekly updates to that friend were on average 33% more successful in accomplishing their stated goals than those who merely formulated goals.

I’ve found that truly successful people write down, review, and communicate their goals consistently.

I’ve found that successful people write down, review, communicate their #goals consistently, says @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

I started to share my goals with others; but more importantly, I reviewed those goals daily. That’s right, every day I would read my goals, making sure I was staying on track.

A few years later, after reading the book The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone, I separated my goals into the following six categories:

  • Financial
  • Family
  • Spiritual
  • Mental
  • Physical
  • Philanthropic

The difference in the direction my life took from that point on is beyond remarkable to me.

Under each category, I list goals in the PRESENT tense (like they’ve already been accomplished) and (yes, I really did) review them every day. Daily is not a requirement, but consistently reviewing your goals is.

Here’s a sample of how the details could work under the six goal areas:

  • Financial: I own companies that I can control at a distance and have great people working for me.
  • Family: I have healthy children who believe they can accomplish anything.
  • Spiritual: I pray every evening with my family.
  • Mental: I read one book per month on something non-business-related.
  • Physical: I run two times per week and compete in two half-marathons per year.
  • Philanthropic: I help keep Cleveland, Ohio, a vibrant city by organizing a large event in the city each year.

Under each category, I like to have at least three goals that can be measured.

I also believe it’s important to physically write down your goals. A simple notebook or Moleskine will do fine. If you want something that is really robust and can motivate you every day, try The Freedom Journal. I have one and it’s fantastic.

Physically write down your goals. A simple notebook or Moleskine will do fine, says @JoePulizzi. Click To Tweet

And yes, you should continually adjust and update your goals, which is why once in a while you will recreate your goals in a new notebook.

This goal-setting and review process is the No. 1 recommendation I make to people who are struggling to find their way. Most, for whatever reason, don’t do it. It’s not hard, but you do have to make it a habit. Three minutes a day is all it takes. Reviewing your goals in the morning keeps you from engaging in activities that do not lead to you accomplishing your goals. For example, reviewing my goals first thing keeps me from going directly into my email inbox.

I hope documenting and reviewing your goals regularly changes your life like it changed mine. Good luck!

You can catch CMI founder Joe Pulizzi at Content Marketing World 2018. Register today for the best savings!

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute