MoonHunter Sayeth 20180523


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Science, Memory, and Goals. Oh My
Achieve your goal with Science! i.e. If you write it down, you can do it.

We have all heard the old chestnut, "If you want to achieve a goal, write it down." Now, there is new science that backs it up.

Now, if you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that 3x5 cards are useful gaming tools. (If you haven't, go read it all now.) The real magic of the 3x5 card is using it as a flash card to easily memorize information. This is a great tool for learning and gaming.

Still, GMs, like many Creatives, need to create material. That material often has to "be done" by a certain time to be useful. Thus, a GM can have deadlines. But it is often hard to meet deadlines, as your experiences at school and work have given you. Part of it is just the time. Part of it is the motivation. Part of it is simple focus on the project. The 3x5 cards or other notes are tools to help, as it seems writing down a detailed description of your goal helps you achieve your goal.

A neuroscientist, one Mark Murphy, found that both men and women need to do a much better job of writing down their goals. Study participants were asked to rate the question “My goal is so vividly described in written form (including pictures, photos, drawings, etc.) that I could literally show it to other people and they would know exactly what I’m trying to achieve.” Sadly, very few people did, and in correlation very few achieved their goal.

Vividly describing your goals in written form is strongly associated with goal success. People who very vividly describe or picture their goals are anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish their goals than people who don’t. That’s a pretty big difference in goal achievement just from writing your goals on a piece of paper.

Why does writing your goals help? It seem like a lot of extra work to write something down when you can just as easily store it in your brain.

Study after study shows people will remember things better when they write them down. Science is beginning to understand why.

Writing things down causes three things to happen.

External storage is easy to explain: you’re storing the information contained in your goal in a location (e.g. a piece of paper) that is very easy to access and review at any time. (Flash Card Effect) You put the reminder somewhere you It doesn’t take a genius to know someone will remember something much better if they are staring at a visual cue every single day.

But there’s another deeper phenomenon happening: encoding. This is the innovative science part. Encoding is the biological process by which the things perceived travel to the brain’s hippocampus where they’re analyzed. From there, decisions are made about what gets stored in our long-term memory and, in turn, what gets discarded. Writing improves that encoding process. In other words, when you write it down it has a much greater chance of being remembered.

Add to this "The Generation Effect" (Sounds like a 60s scifi movie... but we move on.) This effect is that individuals demonstrate better memory for material they’ve generated themselves than for material they’ve merely read. Writing something down as you think about it hits the generation effect.

You then have External cues, Encoding, and The Generation Effect all reinforcing your memory. There is more than just memory involved in remember to do your goal.

Writing information down helps you organize your thoughts on what is important and what is not. Think about a classroom setting. The teacher says what's really important (i.e. on the test) and what's not so important (i.e. not on the test)? Studies have found that when people weren’t taking notes in class, they remembered just as many unimportant facts as they did important facts (There is a recipe for a “C”). When people were taking notes, they remembered many more important facts and many fewer unimportant facts (and that is the secret of “A” students). Writing things down does more than just help you remember, it makes the mind more efficient by helping you focus on the truly important things.

Any goal you have should qualify as truly important stuff to you.


Writing Down the Goal helps set it in your mind. The more definition and details you can add to the goal you are writing the better. It makes the goal clearer in your mind. It also provides more triggers. If the goal is well defined and clearly presented -often with step by step instructions- there are more "important details" to remember. The more elements you remember and remember are important, the more likely you are to act upon the goal.

So Write down what you need, when you need it by (if applicable) and how you need to do it. Put it somewhere you can see it. (I like my lock screen or a sticky note on my personal computer... you may find it useful to post it up on the bathroom mirror, where your credit cards are, or some other place.) Putting it up in multiple places can not hurt either.

And then enjoy that satisfying zip when you pull down that note after you compete the goal.


The Neurologist Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and the author of Hiring For Attitude. His article inspired this one.
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