If you want to maximize your impact, you have to make and keep daily goals. Of course, most of us don’t have difficulty making the goals. The trouble is keeping them.
Well, it turns out that the Red Army of China knows a little trick that can help us.
Brainwashing Has Its Benefits
During the Korean War, freedom-loving people everywhere were shocked when American servicemen captured by the Chinese became critical of the U.S. and even expressed public support for Communism.
How in the world did Uncle Sam’s finest undergo such a radical change of heart?
The quick answer is brainwashing. The longer answer is that the Chinese Army understood and applied a certain principle of social psychology that is scary-effective in getting people to do what you want them to do.
That tactic is so simple it is difficult to believe it works—but it does. So what tactic did the Chinese use?
They got prisoners to write down the things they wanted them to believe.
To influence the prisoners in their custody, the Chinese offered small rewards—like an extra bag of rice or a pack of cigarettes—to those willing to write an essay in which the prisoner identified little ways the United States could improve as a nation, as well as small, seemingly insignificant aspects of Communism that were, admittedly, positive.
Thinking that this was hardly an act of treason, many of the prisoners agreed. Those who refused were given a second option: If they would not write their own essay, would they at least be willing to simply hand copy another’s essay by hand? Many more prisoners agreed to this ludicrous and seemingly innocent request.
And here is what happened: Little by little, word by word, and sentence by sentence, the thoughts in the prisoner’s heads began to conform to the words they printed on the paper—even if they were simply copying them. As the essays the Chinese requested slowly progressed from ambivalence toward Communism to outright approval, the prisoner’s opinions imperceptibly adjusted to what they had written.
Writing as a Strategy for Achieving Your Goals
Pretty crazy, huh?
We don’t completely understand it, but there’s no denying this scientifically-verified tactic: If you want someone to believe—or do—something, they are more likely to do it if they put it in writing.
Again, that’s a little creepy—I’m sure that principle has been grossly abused by wicked regimes (and over-zealous salesmen) everywhere. But it is also good news; because the same psychological principle the Chinese Army used for evil can be used by you for good.
Experts have identified at least three reasons why you’re more likely put into action what you print on paper:
When you write down a goal, you make it clear what you want to accomplish.
English novelist and poet E.M. Forster once asked, “How do I know what I think until I see what I’ve written?” While a goal is still in our mind, it is tangled up with the rest of our thoughts; so, we fail to follow through because we’re confused about what we really want. But when you write a goal down, you force yourself to be clear; and when you can see what you’ve written, you can focus on with laser-like precision. When goals are clear, they are met.
When you write down a goal, it requires extra effort that makes commitment more likely.
Studies consistently show that human beings are far more committed to things that require more effort. Think about Navy SEALs, Fortune 500 executive, or Olympic gold medalists: Do they value what they accomplished? Immensely. Why? Because it took a Herculean effort. But you don’t have to exert yourself like a Greek god: Psychologists say that even the simple act of putting pen to paper of fingers to a keypad is the extra effort that can help solidify your commitment to a goal.
When you write down a goal, you can make the goal public—and tap into the power of social pressure.
Again, studies have shown that most people want to appear consistent with their public statements; that’s because most of us don’t want to appear to others as wishy-washy or flighty. So, when we post our written goals publicly—either on our bathroom mirror for our family to see or on our Facebook wall for our friends to read—we tap into the power of social pressure. It generates an exterior motivation that helps us follow through with our goals.
You want to accomplish your goals? Harness the power of this principle of social psychology. Solidify your commitment to following through.
Write down what you want to do.