- Alice Bull
Struggling to achieve your personal goals? Try these two steps.
Many people start a new year full of hope and optimism about achieving new goals, but by the end of the first month feel unmotivated and disappointed about their inability to stick to a plan. Sound familiar?
Visualising and documenting your personal goals can be a hugely powerful way of focusing on what is important and erasing the doubt around achieving success.
The Zander Letter is a method developed by Benjamin Zander, a Professor at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was struggling to help students who were crippled by performance anxiety and too scared to take creative risks with their music.
His approach was to award every student a grade A and then asked them to write him a letter describing how they achieved their grade, outlining all the insights gained and milestones reached along the way.
Students had to start the letter "Dr Mr Zander, I got my A because...." and imagine themselves twelve months on. All points had to be made in the past, saying what they had done, rather than focusing on what they were going to do. Phrases such as "I hope to" and "I will" were disallowed, ensuring that the letters were purely focused on the achievements made to reach their grade A.
The Zander method is a concept that you can easily adapt for your own goals. Dr Gail Matthews at Dominican University in California carried out research showing people are 62% more likely to achieve their goals if they write them down.
How to make the most out of this method:
1. Visualise your goals:
Sophrology is a technique used to relax the body and calm the mind so that you can go into the future, visualise the goals you are wanting to achieve and notice how the body feels and reacts to the sensations of success.
A research paper in 1978 described a phenomenon called the Generation Effect, describing how information is better remembered if it is actively created in your own mind rather than just reading it. Creating your own image of success as a mental picture can help you remember the goal you are working towards.
2. Write down your goal as if you've already achieved it:
You can adapt the Zander Letter method to write a letter to yourself, imagining that you have already reached your goal. Use visual cues including photos, quotes or drawings to bring the letter to life!
The key point here is that you put away your laptop and handwrite yourself a letter, starting "Dear X.... I have achieved my goal of X because......".
Why write by hand?
When you write something down, you learn more effectively by stimulating cells at the base of your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).
When the RAS is activated, your brain will pay more attention to what you are doing in that present moment. As your brain follows the shape of each letter as you write, it is more engaged than if you are typing on laptop keys which all look the same.
Having already visualised your goal, you can now regenerate that goal when you write it down, reinforcing that vision in your mind and helping you to focus on what is important to get to your target.
Don't let doubt get in the way!
If you allow niggles about your own ability or the risks you're taking to overwhelm you, then you will be stuck in an intention mode with no ability to manifest your plans and advance.
The process of writing yourself a letter helps you bring down any barriers to achievement, erase any doubts and take full responsibility of the path you need to take to get there. It provides you with a timeframe to work towards and removes the ambiguous guesswork around if and when your progress will be accomplished.
The Zander Letter approach provides you with a written record that you can always go back to and remind yourself of your plans when you start to feel unmotivated or lacking in intention.