I was first introduced to the importance of goal setting from Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, which I read well over twenty-five years ago. Every few years, I reread it as a refresher course. Often called the granddaddy of motivational literature, Think and Grow Rich has sold a staggering one hundred million copies worldwide since it was initially published in 1937. It’s on more recommended book lists than you can count and still relevant today because its principles are timeless.
Over twenty years, Hill interviewed over five hundred of the wealthiest men in America to unlock the secret of success, which he outlined in thirteen principles. According to Hill, thoughts become things, hence the iconic title of the book. The starting point of all achievement is knowing what you want and detailing it. In a nutshell, Hill outlined six practical steps for turning desires into reality, aka goal setting:
- Step One: Write down your goals.
- Step Two: Determine how will you achieve your goals.
- Step Three: Set a deadline.
- Step Four: Create a plan and get into action immediately.
- Step Five: Write a concise statement of the aforementioned four steps.
- Step Six: Review your goals twice daily.
The key to the above is persistence, day in and day out. Gotta be all in, much like being 100 percent committed to being happy AF. Half-assery won’t do it. Another key trait of Hill’s successful subjects was the unshakable belief they had about themselves and their goals. Still holds true today. To wit, Warren Buffet famously asserted, “I always knew I was going to be rich. I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute.” Barack Obama said he was going to be President—when he was in elementary school.
Your thoughts and beliefs must be in alignment for goals and visions to manifest. Let’s face it. People who think they’ll fail, fail. People who think they’ll succeed, do.
Modern neuroscience further supports the tenets put forth in Hill’s book. The more you desire a goal, the harder your brain works to achieve it. Even subconsciously. I like to picture little neurons with hard hats working underground together to achieve my goals; in my daydream, they look very much like those adorable little yellow Minions from Despicable Me. I’m probably giving the more scientifically minded a conniption—but hang on, the Reticular Activating System (RAS) is a real thing.
RAS is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out information so that only the important stuff gets through. It takes direction from your conscious mind and then passes it on to your unconscious. Like a bouncer at the best club ever, it only allows in what’s on the list. When you consciously pay attention to something, the RAS puts it on the list. It will then start unconsciously noticing things relevant to the list.
For example, a pregnant woman will suddenly start noticing pregnant women and babies everywhere. When you learn a new word, you suddenly read or hear it much more often. You buy a new car, and suddenly you notice that car everywhere. Jeep literally turned the RAS into a marketing program. No joke. For years, Jeep enthusiasts have noted that Jeep owners wave to each other on the road. It was their thing, their nod of solidarity to being in the Jeep club. They call it the Jeep Wave. Fast forward, and Jeep branded the phenomenon into the Jeep Wave premium owner loyalty program. Reticular Activating System, at work on and off the road.
Goal setting is like hitting the ignition switch on your RAS. When you set your goals and actively visualize them, the brain picks up the torch to help carry it across the finish line. The brain can’t distinguish between what’s real and what we think may be real, and this is why the RAS is so integral to goal setting and attainment. Your brain will believe what you tell it and, in doing so, will influence your actions. Law of Attraction manifested. It’s not mystical. It’s neuroscience.
Keeping your goals in focus allows your RAS to continue its heavy lifting. That’s why it’s recommended to write them down, visualize them, and go over them every day—so you keep them top-of-mind. Brands pay millions and millions of advertising dollars for top-of-mind consumer awareness. That’s an actual marketing metric—the first brand that comes to mind when you think of a category. Soda? Coca-Cola. Tissue? Kleenex. Greeting card? Hallmark. Fast food restaurant? McDonald’s. I mean, top-of-mind awareness even has its own game show, for heaven’s sake—Family Feud!! Top-of-mind awareness is a thing, clearly, and its inherent value is huge. The pay-off for companies is that the consumer buys into what they’re selling. The pay-off for you? Your mind buys into the goals you want to achieve!
Notice how most goal setting involves writing your goals, not just saying them, whether out loud or in your head. Committing to it in black and white, whether by hand or Helvetica font. Studies show that goal-setters achieve their goals. According to a recent study, you’re 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals when they’re written, well-defined, and with a plan of action. It also found that subjects who shared their written goals and progress with friends on an ongoing basis accomplished significantly more.
What’s written on your heart? Are you ready to translate it into words on the page?