The Big One – Why Write Down Your Goals

I was never a big believer in writing down goals. The whole process seemed regimented, non-creative and boring. I’ve found out that it is the exact opposite. The answer to why has to do with how our brain works.

First, let’s consider two categories that explain how we do things: algorithmic and heuristic. Algorithmic is a step by step approach – rote activities. Heuristic is the creative approach – thinking outside the box. With advances in technology, algorithmic activities handled by individuals are declining. Meanwhile, heuristic activities are growing in importance.

An example is fracking, a process for releasing natural gas, where shale rock is fractured beneath the earth. Originally, this process involved just drilling down vertically. While initially the process needed to be designed, this eventually became standard, more algorithmic.

Once the technology for this was set, a new approach was identified – horizontal drilling – drilling vertically and then reaching out horizontally to expand access to the natural gas. This new approach decreased the number of new wells needed to be drilled, lowered the cost of extraction and created an economy where natural gas is now a much greater source for our energy.

To achieve this new result, many people had to go through a heuristic process. A goal was set and horizontal drilling was the result. It is heuristic activity that solves problems and leads to the achievement of greater goals.

So, what motivates us to act and pursue our goals? In the 1970s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor at the University of Chicago, asked that question, while studying autotelic experiences. Auto, is Greek for “self”, and telic means goal or purpose.

Essentially this means that the goal is self-fulfilling. Pursuing the goal brings happiness, making the process of doing the goal-based activities fun. It is as if you are playing. Csikszentmihalyi used the term flow to capture this concept.

As a business owner, you are always trying to grow your business. You’re confident and want to be in flow within your areas of excellence. To do this you need to have an autotelic experience.

For that you need a goal, something that motivates you that is measurable, attainable and specific. Next time I will discuss how you can get that done.

For a little more on the above topics, go to this link about heuristic vs. algorithmic activities or a link about goal writing.


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