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What’s more important than a barbell for exercise? A pencil

Take it from Arnold Schwarzenegger: Writing a goal down makes it real.

Illustration by Jason Schneider for The Boston Globe

For the first few weeks of January, it can be hard to find a space at my local Gold’s Gym; I circle the parking lot muttering, “Stupid New Year’s resolutions!” Mercifully, by Martin Luther King Day, the crowds thin out. People are giving up.

It doesn’t have to be that way. At the risk of denying myself convenient parking, I will share the world’s most profoundly simple life hack for sticking to your goals, by harnessing one of the most important forces in the universe: Writing.

Writing has power. Words written thousands of years ago by unnamed scribes on the other side of the world will inspire billions to attend church on Sundays in 2020. If writing can do that, it can get you to stick to a diet or haul yourself to the gym a few times a week.


All resolutions must be written down. That’s it. But not written in pixels on a phone. It must be on something real, such as a chalkboard or a wall or a piece of paper.

Once put to paper, your aspirations are literally brought into the physical world. And if posted where you can see them — and they can see you — they will not be ignored.

I learned this years ago from Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I always wrote down my goals,” he wrote in his autobiography. “It wasn’t sufficient just to tell myself ‘lose twenty pounds and learn better English and read a little bit more.’ No. That was only a start. Now I had to make it very specific so that all those fine intentions were not just floating around. I would take out index cards and write that I was going to: get twelve more units in college; earn enough money to save $5,000; work out five hours a day . . .”


Write it down. It sounds simple but it works.

I’ve used this trick for years, and now people at the beach mistake me for Schwarzenegger all the time.*

* OK, that last bit was a joke! But I’m serious that writing things down works.


1. How to set a goal to save more money this year

2. Six ways to be a better friend in 2020

3. If you want to read more, you don’t need to start with Shakespeare

4. Waste less time on your phone with this simple trick

5. Exercise made easy: The hidden power of taking a walk

6. How to be kinder in Boston, America’s fifth rudest city

7. What’s more important than a barbell for exercise? A pencil

8. Four realistic steps to eating healthier in 2020

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark.