New Year’s Day is a time when people often set goals for self-improvement. However, as those who make and break New Year’s resolutions every year can attest, setting the goal in and of itself is not enough. Many steps lie between setting the goal and achieving it.
New research suggests that you’ll reach a goal faster if you actively monitor your progress. And writing it down and sharing it with others helps even more.
The research, published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the journal Psychological Bulletin, focused on people trying to reach health-related goals, such as losing weight, changing eating habits, quitting smoking or lowering blood pressure. It found that the more frequently people monitored their efforts, the greater their chances for success.
Monitoring progress forms a critical bridge between setting goals and attaining goals, lead author Benjamin Harkin, of the University of Sheffield in England, said in an APA statement. It ensures that goals are translated into action.
A critical nuance of the study is that it found that it was more effective for participants to monitor the progress achieved toward the goal rather than monitoring underlying behaviors. For example, if the ultimate goal was weight loss, it was better for participants to regularly weigh themselves. Monitoring changes to underlying behavior, such as diet modification or exercise, were not as directly effective.
The researchers found that monitoring was most effective when it was physically recorded; for example, keeping a diary or logging written entries. Monitoring was also more effective when it was publicly reported or shared in a group. Weight loss groups, for example, proved successful for many participants when they were required to regularly weigh themselves in front of other members.
Although researchers noted that the effects of health-related monitoring were particularly strong, their findings could also be applied to financial goals or athletic performance.
The study, titled Does Monitoring Goal Progress Promote Goal Attainment? A Meta-Analysis of the Experimental Evidence, included an analysis of 138 previous studies totaling nearly 20,000 participants.
“Our conclusion is that progress monitoring has a robust effect on goal attainment and constitutes a key component of effective self-regulation,” the study concluded.