The Art of the Goal:
Are You Part of the 3 Percent?
Do you have clearly defined written goals? Or are they
just in your head? Research shows that those people who
actually sit down and write out their goals not only end
up achieving them, but have higher incomes and ratings for
overall 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:
Mark McCormack, in his book What They Don't Teach You at
Harvard Business School, tells of a Harvard study conducted
between 1979 and 1989. 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?"
It turned out that only 3 percent of the graduates had written
goals and plans. Thirteen percent had goals, but not in
writing. Fully 84 percent had no specific goals at all.
Ten years later, in 1989, the researchers interviewed the
members of that same class again. They found that the 13
percent who had goals that were not in writing were earning
twice as much as the 84 percent of students who had no goals
at all. And most surprisingly, they found that the 3 percent
of graduates who had clear, written goals when they left
Harvard were earning, on average, 10 times as much as the
other 97 percent of graduates all together. The only difference
between the groups was the clarity of the goals they had
for themselves when they graduated.
Yes, you read that correctly. The 3 percent who had clear,
written goals earned ten times as much as the 97 percent
who didn't have clear, written goals.
Brian Tracy, Mark McCormack, Zig Ziglar, Anthony Robbins,
and many other motivational gurus have used various versions
of this story, some of whom attribute it to a 1953 study
at Yale. Apparently there is no such study, but the story
has been handed down like a myth. When Tracy was contacted
about the source of his version, he responded, "If
it's not true it should be."
Nevertheless, the story makes a good point. 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 main reasons people don't set clear goals
and write them out. Many people say they can't be bothered
to take the time to sit and write them out, preferring to
keep them in their heads. But no one is really that busy,
as it only takes a few minutes. The real reasons are probably
deeper, involving the fact that if they are kept in "the
head," it is easy to change, revise and ignore them.
This avoids accountability issues and facing failure. Looking
further into the psychological reasons, we find the following
3 Reasons Your Goals May not Work
- First, most people don't realize the importance
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.
Look around you. How many of your friends or family
members are clear and committed to their goals? Successful
people are all committed to action plans. They set goals
out in writing and follow them.
- 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
- 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.
This is a form of unconscious self-sabotage. They end
up going through life functioning at sub-optimal levels
rather than at the level they are truly capable.
- 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. This is one reason to keep
goals confidential when you begin to start out with
goal setting, other than sharing with your coach, mentor
or a trusted peer.
Knowing the barriers to successful goal-setting, you are
ready to learn how to set goals that will help you succeed
and find the satisfaction you deserve. 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, you need to consider the three elements listed
There are three main reasons why your goals may fail to
inspire and motivate change.
- The goal isn't valued enoughyou 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 specificit's too broad
and overwhelming. While "getting fit" is admirable,
it really isn't a goalrather the outcome of attaining
the more specific goals of working out regularly, doing
sports and eating less junk food.
- Your goal isn't supportedyou don't have
a coach or mentor to cheer you on in your little successes,
or to help you come back after a setback.
Each of these elements must be carefully considered in creating
goals that you can achieve. 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. Then, when
you have written down your goals in a specific, clear, measurable
way that is time-framed, 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
Once you have set your goals, be sure to share them a trusted
advisor who will hold you accountable for and help you develop
strategies to achieve YOUR goals.