Success through goal setting – are you in the three percent?

Do you have clearly defined written goals? Or are they just in your head? Research shows that people who write out their goals end up achieving them and have higher incomes, success, and life satisfaction.

According to Brian Tracy in his book Goals!, there is a study that reveals just how effective written goals can be. Here is what Tracy reports:

In 1979, the graduates of the MBA program were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Only 3 percent of the graduates said yes. Thirteen percent had goals, but not in writing. Fully 84 percent had no specific goals at all.

Ten years later, the researchers found that the 13 percent who had goals not in writing were earning twice as much as the 84 percent of students who had no goals at all. And they found that the 3 percent of graduates who had clear, written goals when they left Harvard were earning, 10 times as much as the other graduates all together. The only difference between the groups was the clarity of the goals they had for themselves when they graduated.

This makes for a great motivational story on goal setting, if only it were true. To date, no one has been able to find this research study on record, although many motivational speakers including Tony Robbins, Mark McCormack and Zig Ziglar have used it! When asked about his use of the story in his book Goals!, Tracy responded, “If it isn’t true, it should be!”

Almost all successful people have goals, and outstanding high achievers have clearly defined written goals. That said, how come so few people actually write out their goals?

Why not set goals?

There are four reasons people don’t set clear goals and write them out. Many people say they can’t take time to sit and write. But no one is that busy. The real reasons are probably deeper, involving the fact that if they are kept in “the head,” it is easy to change, revise, or ignore them. This avoids accountability issues and facing failure. Looking further into the psychological reasons, we find the following four factors:

  1. First, most people don’t realize the importance of goals. If you grow up in a home where no one has goals or you socialize with a group where goals are neither discussed nor valued, you can very easily reach adulthood without knowing that your ability to set and achieve goals will have more of an effect on your life than any other skill. Successful people are all committed to action plans. They set goals out in writing and follow them.
  2. They don’t know how to set goals. Some people confuse goals with wishes and fantasies. They think in terms of “having a lot of money,” “getting a great job,” “having a nice family,” “getting fit,” without breaking these wishes down into their component parts and the action steps it would take. These aren’t goals but wishes and fantasies common to everyone. A goal is different. It is clear, specific and measurable. You know when you have achieved it or not.
  3. They have a fear of failure. If goals aren’t written down, we can change them to match what is actually achieved without having to face any feelings of failure. Furthermore, many people make the mistake of setting goals that are easily attained in order to avoid failing. They end up going through life functioning at suboptimal levels rather than at the level they are truly capable.
  4. They have a fear of rejection. The fourth reason people don’t set clear, written goals, is that they fear they will be seen by others as ridiculous if they fail. They don’t want to face criticism be seen as not capable or worthy.

3 Reasons Your Goals May not Work

You may already have in mind three important goals for yourself that you’ve been wanting to achieve for a while. Go ahead and write them down now; save them for review later. Before you can set effective goals, however, consider these three reasons why your goals may fail to inspire and motivate change.

The goal isn’t valued enough—you haven’t committed your mind and heart. It doesn’t align with your values. It may be something someone else thinks you should do, or, it may compete with other values you find more important.

Your goal isn’t specific—it’s too broad and overwhelming. While “getting fit” is admirable, it really isn’t a goal—rather the outcome of attaining the more specific goals of working out regularly, doing sports and eating less junk food.

Your goal isn’t supported—you don’t have a coach or mentor to cheer you on in your little successes, or to help you come back after a setback.

Once you have aligned your goals with your true identity, values and life purpose, you will find them easier to accomplish. The energy will flow, because the goals are an expression of your true self. When you have written down your goals in a specific, clear, measurable way, the small steps along the way will become evident. This also keeps the energy flowing, and helps you to remain focused on the goal.

The best way to get support for your goals is from a coach. Friends and family members may be helpful, or not. A professionally trained coach is an expert at helping you to achieve what you want. He or she can also help you with the goal setting process to ensure that your goals are aligned with your values.

Email me at and we can set up a time to talk about how you can achieve goals both personal and professional ones.

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