Not Another Goal Setting Post! Really? Really! (With a Twist…)


It was a great study.

The MBA class of Harvard 1979 was polled to find out how many had written goals.   The study revealed:

  • 84% had no specific goals at all
  • 13% had goals but they were not committed to paper
  • 3% had clear, written goals and plans to accomplish them

The results of this written goal setting is simply astonishing.   When the study participants were polled again ten years later:

  • The 13% of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all.
  • The three percent who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

This grabbed my attention when I first learned of the is study.  So, what is the best way to write your goals?   I am a devotee of the field of human motivation called Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) after using the tools to lose 200 lbs!  Needless to say – I am convinced of it’s power. This field of study is focused on how the mind develops beliefs and, most importantly, how to remove the beliefs and thoughts that limit us.

The “Well Formed Outcome” from NLP is “goal setting on steroids,” as it addresses the pesky limiting beliefs in a very subtle way. So, to write a “Well Formed Outcome,” do the following steps:

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1.  Write your objective in positive terms.   

Specificity is very good here.  Example:

“I want to be rich.”

That is better than no written goal at all- but consider the following instead:

“I want to own 5,000 units in 10 years using private money.”

The human brain can only process seven chunks of information – plus or minus two any one time.  Giving the brain more information on what to strive for greatly enhances your ability to get what we want out of life.

2.  Your goals need to be self-contained or within your power to achieve.

BAD goal:   I want Natalie Portman to fall madly in love with me.  True if you have more game than xbox you can possibly make this happen – maybe – but this is largely out of your control.

GREAT goal: Our original 5,000 units goal may sound like a pipe dream to others, but it has been accomplished by others using a proven formula.  So, if we follow the same steps we get the same result.  Pipe dream to others or not.

3.  Why do you want this?

This step forces us to probe our true reasons.   Great achievement requires persistence.  When we face adversity it is this true purpose that will keep you powering through the internal and external resistance.

4.  What will having this goal look like to you, what will it feel like?  What will you hear?

By experiencing the goal as having already taken place, we again permit the mind to work it’s magic.  High performance athletes have been using this to achieve record breaking results for decades.  Why not put this powerful tool to use if you want to be a gold medal real estate investor?

5.   What resources do you have available?

Using this step we get to do a laundry list of things at our disposal that will help us reach this goal.  In our 5000 unit goal example, we could list the following:

  • Modeling:  study people who have accomplished a similar goal and extract their plan, habits, beliefs and actions.
  • Networking:  Meet people that have accomplished the goal and pick their brain
  • Masterminds:  Form a small group of people who are working on the same objective to discuss obstacles and gain additional viewpoints
  • Real Estate Books
  • Coaching:  From both subject matter experts and on the personal mindset
  • The 1.5 Trillion dollars raised via private placements.  (Abundant money is out there!)
  • Of course I am biased – but story after story is out there where folks have met a key partner in making a deal happen here on BiggerPockets.

6.  Optional bonus from my management science study:  What’s the true constraint?

A great physicist by the name of Eli Goldratt created a physics answer to business called the theory of constraints.   I won’t drowned you in geek here, but the basic philosophy is best summed up by the old saying “a chain is only as good is the weakest link.”  Therefore a process is needed to identify the weakest link:

  1. Identify the system’s constraint(s) (that which prevents the organization from obtaining more of the goal in a unit of time)
  2. Decide how to exploit the system’s constraint(s) (how to get the most out of the constraint)
  3. Subordinate everything else to the above decision (align the whole system or organization to support the decision made above)
  4. Elevate the system’s constraint(s) (make other major changes needed to increase the constraint’s capacity)
  5. Warning! If in the previous steps a constraint has been broken, go back to step 1, but do not allow inertia to cause a system’s constraint.[5]

So if you’re like me, it may seem that in real estate the constraint is “equity capital.”  It very well may be- but currently, I think the mindset of the investor is the place to start.  I know in my case its been the #1 reason for the results I have so far.

Rule of thumb:  you cannot improve a system by improving a non constraint

The worst part about this that I have found in analysis paralysis that reading just one more book is never going to substitute for action.  Applied knowledge is the key (preaching to myself on this one).  Remind you of anyone?

 7.  Draft and execute a wanton experimentation plan.

One of my worst enemies in progress is my perfectionist streak. This insidious foe has been blind to me up until very recently.   NLP has provided a great belief to me: There is no failure, only feedback    

So what if I look bad making a ridiculous offer?  Life is a fatal condition; it’s a shame if I let my desire to be perfect send me to my grave never achieving my full potential.

Photo: derrickcollins

About Author

Douglas Dowell

Douglas Dowell J.D. is a commercial and multifamily investor. His blog will focus on legally raising private money, risk mitigation with due diligence and management science. He is also an avid student of success principles with a focus on modeling success factors.


  1. Madonna Machado on

    A very wonderful piece. It is truly personal responsibility step when it comes time to moving forward.
    I like how you offer a way to go in so you can create without.
    I am so fortunate to have come across , what I believe , the most purest and powerful self development program available called Avatar 17 years ago.
    What I liked , when I first heard about the Avatar Course , was that I was Source of all creation. So thus developing the way we can obtain this in my own personal Universe, was thrilling for me.
    So yes, regarding our newest adventure rehab houses and sell them with more environmentally improved homes so people and the planet can live a better life.
    Thank you so much for this blog. It is wonderful

    • Douglas Dowell on

      Your welcome Madonna,

      I love the premise of the program you described. It focuses us on the right and responsibility for our station in life.

      Its not our family, friends, the education we received. We were born VERY fortunate to be born in the USA. We can wine about how we got hosed by former partner (raising my hand). We can complain about congress and factually accurate as it may be:

      WE ARE IN Control.

  2. Karin DiMauro on

    Thank you, this is a fabulous post, as important – if not more – than any other how-to topic out there. It all starts with goal-setting, doesn’t it?! And this is a great time of year for a few reminders … there’s still time to meet goals for 2013!

    I’ve heard about NLP and would like to learn more details. Can you suggest any books, websites, etc?

    And congratulations on the 200 pounds! That is really amazing stuff. I’d venture to guess that might have been harder to achieve than any real estate goal?

    • Douglas Dowell on

      Thank you so much Karin,

      I will tell you once I got momentum the process was almost autopilot with regard to weight loss and fitness. The biggest belief I formed with the right system in place (example eating a new way and optimal exercise in my case) ANYTHING can happen over time.

      My big question is what is your goal with NLP? The strange thing about I have learned over time it is more of a “doing” discipline. I At this point, I recommend either finding a coach or attending a certification program. I read book after book about NLP but I am getting significantly more actionable results from the NLP based Self hypnosis tapes.

      From that genre, I liked personal power II from Tony Robbins.

      The self hypnosis programs by Igor Ledowchoski or Richard Bandler (co-founder of nlp) are the next level. Be prepared however. You will start to feel a ‘shift’ in world with those two.

      Having said all the above a great overview book is NLP: The New Technology of Achievement by Steve Andreas and Charles Falkner.

      I will also touch base offline if you have any questions. I would love to hear what you discover along the way.

      • Karin DiMauro on

        Thank you! I will touch base w/you offline to learn more. The overview book sounds like a good place to start and would probably answer a lot of my questions to begin with. I’m interested in some weight loss, plus business and personal advancement. I’d like to be a thin, fit, highly organized real estate mogul with a perfect family life. 😉 (That’s half-joking.)

        The hypnosis is fascinating. My mother attended a 5-day course about 15 years ago and was introduced to the concept of NLP then. It’s pretty mind-blowing what your subconscious can do. (As a side note, it all started w/a show in Vegas. Mom went in as a skeptic, wondering how much of it was fake, and wound up being the person on stage who eats fire in the grand finale! She was thus converted.)

        Anyway, thanks again! So weird how the universe works … I woke up this morning thinking about how there’s about one quarter left in the year and what could be accomplished during that time. And then your blog shows up in my inbox! Whoa.

        • Douglas Dowell on

          Crazy “coincidence” :))

          Hypnosis is waaaaay misconstrued and its a crime most people miss out. The skeptics may not believe and that’s okay. I bet however they have been on a road trip and next thing they know they missed their exit. Trance is a natural human behavior.

    • Douglas Dowell on

      One glaring omission….I am remiss if I don’t recommend Visionary Leadership Skills by Robert Dilts. His new book out soon is called Success Factor Modeling. Anything by Robert is worth the read.

      My objective is to take his NLP train the trainer course next summer.

  3. Doug…you were right! Epic post! I have read about that same study done at Harvard and I think it is fascinating and very powerful!

    One of my biggest things is keeping my goals in a place where I can see them every day. Keeping them on a piece of paper under my bed isn’t cutting it….I need to change that.

    And btw….When you said, “More game than xbox” I literally lol’d ! haha

    • Douglas Dowell on

      Thanks buddy!

      I thought you would definitely appreciate this.
      hahaha….more game than xbox and a legend in his own mind bwaaaaha.

      Another next level tool I have been looking into in addition to writting them down is “mind movies”.

      If you have a movie editing program….show pictures that correspond to your goals. And a sound track….mine is set to thrift shop by maclamore hahahaa

  4. Jeff Brown

    Hey Douglas — I think I’ve found a friend in this post. For years I’ve been tellin’ anyone who’d listen that the foundation of Tony Robbins thinking was, among other things, NLP. I’ve made use of it since it came out a lifetime ago, and it’s never failed me on any level.

    Also thanks for this: More game than xbox — The name of my new band. 🙂

    You may not realize it now, Douglas, but you’ve likely helped to change many, many lives for the better.

    • Douglas Dowell on

      I certainly appreciate the comment Jeff,

      I agree we have traveled a similar journey noooo doubt about it.

      Have a great weekend my brother. Look forward to seeing the band play :))

    • Douglas Dowell on

      Thank you Karen,

      I think that’s what I am really excited about. Learning how much our conscious self limits are truly the real constraint.

      Have a great holiday weekend!

  5. Hi Doug,

    Great post. #6 really hit home for me especially the last part “you cannot improve a system by improving a non-constraint”. Now if the constraint is “time” how would one go about exploiting it? Any ideas?

  6. Douglas, i thoroughly enjoyed the article you wrote. Fact is, the opening study really caught my eye. What an amazing statistic! I thought it was so great that I gave a shout out to you and this post in my podcast, Doubt the Doubts (episode 45).
    Then I read your comments… Hmmm. Fake study. Then I read the linking article. Hmmm. Wide spread fake study. Then I realized that I am now a propagater of fake studies. Hmmm. Thanks a lot Douglas!
    I am truly just joking. But I did give a shout out because I really like the content of your message and I just knew that my audience needed to hear it. Getting specific, as you expounded upon in point 1, is a powerful point.
    Thanks for the great content, Douglas.

    • Douglas Dowell

      Thanks for the shout out Paul! I hope to ad value to this great home for real estate investors.

      I felt egg on my face when I found out the study was bogus. I really want to cowboy up and make it real. It sounds soooo legit. Tony Robbins also thought it was good. Thats where I first heard it mentioned.

      • I would feel exactly the same as you did. Having said that, if the info is from a legit source, it’s kinda not your. Plus it was introductory comments and did not change the importance of the body. Great writing. Thanks.

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