Are you one of those people who write down goals for the new year on New Year’s Eve? Rainer Zitelmann, author of the book “Setze dir bigger goals”, which has been published in 13 languages, explains why you should do this and what you need to bear in mind.
It has been a ritual for me for 25 years: on New Year’s Eve I write down the goals for the next year. I wouldn’t be doing this year after year if I hadn’t found it to work. Just like many other people. Many successful entrepreneurs I interviewed for my dissertation on the “psychology of the super-rich” also write down their goals.
dr Rainer Zitelmann has a doctorate in history and sociology. He has written and edited 25 books, including “Capitalism is not the problem, but the solution” and his new book: “The 10 errors of the anti-capitalists”. As an entrepreneur, he built up a fortune worth millions. He is a member of the FDP.
Why this practice is so effective is not so important. Experience shows that it works for many successful people. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who set and achieved great goals in various areas of life (sports, film, politics), reports in his autobiography that he did this very early on:
“I always wrote down my goals, just like I had learned in the weight training club in Graz. It wasn’t enough to say something like ‘My New Year’s resolution is to lose twenty pounds, learn better English and read a little more’. No, that was just the beginning. Now I had to formulate them very specifically so that all these good intentions didn’t just get stuck in the air. I took index cards and wrote on them that I:
– complete twelve more units at the university;
– Earn enough money to save $5,000;
– train five hours a day;
– Gained seven pounds of muscle; and
– find a house that I would buy and move into.
It may seem like I’m putting myself in chains when I set goals that specific. But exactly the opposite was the case: I found it liberating. Because I knew exactly where I wanted to go, I was completely free to improvise how I was going to get there.”
Schwarzenegger also emphasizes the importance of setting really, really big goals. Especially at the top there is more space than you think, because not so many people have the courage to plan to really get to the top.
The scientific goal-setting theory has proven through numerous studies that demanding and specifically formulated goals lead to better results than easy goals, and that people who set specific goals are more successful than those who have no or only vaguely formulated goals put. For my book Set yourself bigger goals, I analyzed over 50 biographies of successful people and it turned out that many of them set themselves very big goals early on in their lives.
A few examples: Howard Schultz was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a laborer and grew up in a socially disadvantaged area. He made Starbucks a global brand with more than 27,000 stores! When he wrote his autobiography in 1997, he prefaced the book with the following advice: “Dream more than what others think is reasonable. Expect more than what others think is possible.” Larry Page, the inventor of Google, said that one should “never be intimidated by the impossible”. “It’s important to try things that most would shy away from.”
Sam Walton, who founded what was at times the largest company in the world with Wal-Mart, explained the secret of his success as follows: “I’ve always set my standards quite high: I’ve set myself extremely high personal goals.”
Legendary entrepreneur and billionaire Richard Branson put it this way: “The lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that no goal is beyond your reach, and even the impossible can become possible for people with vision and what Believe in yourself.” Setting little or no goals to avoid frustration is tantamount to giving up before you start.
If it works so well for many successful people, why aren’t more people setting big goals? Because they lack self-confidence, because they are afraid of failure. A thought experiment: Imagine for a moment if I could guarantee you that you couldn’t fail – wouldn’t you set your goals much bigger? Of course, there is no such guarantee.
But allow me two comments:
I am often asked: how big should the goal be that I set myself? And how exactly should I phrase it? And how many goals should I set myself?
Of course, the saying “nothing is impossible” that you sometimes hear from motivational speakers is not true. You’re not going to be President of the United States next year, no matter how many times you write it down and no matter how much you want it. And you won’t be going to Mars the year after next, no matter how much you dream of it.
but that is not the point. Most people don’t set goals that are too big, they set goals that are too small – or none at all. A goal should be so big that you find it very difficult to believe in it. A goal that is certain in advance that you will achieve it relatively easily is certainly too small.
Above all, goals must be quantifiable, otherwise it will be difficult to check whether you are achieving them. More importantly, your subconscious doesn’t understand vaguely formulated goals. If you write to Amazon, “Send me something great,” you won’t get anything. Your goals must be specific.
Last New Year’s Eve I wrote: “My next book will be translated into 20 languages and I’ll sign the contracts for all of them in 2022.” That was ambitious, because my most successful book to date has been translated into 13 languages - but that took ten years lasted!
I also decided a year ago to only write down one goal, although it’s usually five to ten goals. But I figured it would be easier to achieve one goal than five goals. And so it was. Only: The goal was too small, because in the end I signed 27 contracts.
So formulate your goals in concrete terms – and above all, don’t be afraid to set big goals! I wish you that you will achieve your big goals in 2023!
Rainer Zitelmann will speak about the topic of goal setting at an event on March 17, 2023.