Goal Setting: Track Outside Your Head

journal for goals

You know yourself, right?

You eat healthy most of the time, right? You fight with your significant other less than once a week, don’t you? The television is rarely on at your house…..or is it? If you start studying the psychology of memory, you’ll find human memory is notoriously bad. You might think events happen at a certain frequency, but there’s also a chance you could be absolutely wrong.

The 30 Day Workout

I’ll illustrate with a personal example. At one point, I started a 30-day workout plan. Each day had a unique workout, if you knew the workout number you knew how many days in you were. I started the plan at the beginning of June, fully committed to the plan. As the days went on, I missed a handful here or there, but I was pretty much on track. It felt good, I was getting stronger.

When I finally finished the program, however, there was a jarring discrepancy. It was the 15th of July when I did the last workout. What the? Averaging those numbers meant I was skipping every third day! 33% is a significant rate of non-adherence. Yet, I felt, and my memory told me, I had stayed on track really well. The data couldn’t be argued with though. Memory distortions are common, so we need the data. 

Track goals outside your head for accuracy.

Since our memories are so prone to distortions, it’s critical we take the time to track our goals outside our head. This gives us the data we need to identify potential pitfalls and correct them. It also gives us a realistic picture of what’s happening. You wouldn’t want to miss taking a vital medication a third of the time, it could be life threatening! While most issues aren’t this serious, we still want confidence in our goal progression.

A few methods for tracking.

Tracking your goals might sound a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. While adding additional details and context might be helpful, a barebones approach can also be effective as well. For example in the workout example all we need to do is get a calendar and simply mark off the days we’ve completed a workout.

To go a bit more broadly, you can use a spreadsheet, daily checklist, calendar, or any other system which will help you keep track of what you’ve accomplished. The important point is that you’re tracking it in some form. This gives you the data you need to make adjustments.

Use The Data To Identify Opportunities

In addition, you can look for problem areas. Maybe you’re not making it to the gym every Friday. What’s going on there? Do you need to adjust your plan or remove roadblocks? These slight distractors may not show up unless you have the data. There are many insights to be gained.

One important note to keep in mind, if your goal isn’t trackable then it’s going to be incredibly difficult to achieve. You won’t know when you’ve made progress. If you’re in this boat, I recommend trying to get more specific or finding certain aspects you can track.

In closing, tracking goals outside your head gives you far more confidence you’re actually doing what you think you’re doing. This data can obliterate the distortions we’re prone to, providing ideas for rapid improvement. If you’re not  already, start tracking your goals! You’ll get more done and be far happier in the long run.


  1. Are there any experiences you’ve had thinking you behaved one way only to find out later it wasn’t true?

  2. What is one goal you’re working on and how will you track it?


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