However, you may have noticed that achieving those goals never as easy as setting them. You may become discouraged, run into significant obstacles, lose focus and change course, or simply go about business as usual and forget you even set new goals by the time January is gone.
I know what you think is coming next but believe me, you don’t necessarily need another motivational speech or inspirational slogan. What you do need is access to the tools that will allow you to set, keep, and achieve your goals. If you haven’t reached your goals in the past it’s not because you aren’t motivated, capable, or industrious enough – it’s just because you lacked those tools to succeed.
In this two-part series, we’ll cover the actual science behind goal setting, tossing aside emotional and personal factors and instead studying the science and data behind goal setting.
The first acknowledged empirical study of goal setting was conducted in the UK in 1935 by Cecil Alec Mace, who found that people with written goals are 50% more likely to achieve than those who don’t commit their goals to writing.
But it took another 44 years for a real comprehensive study to bring about some startling revelations when it came to goal setting.
In 1979, a revolutionary study at Harvard found some shocking evidence that goal setting correlates with massive success. Of course Harvard business school is the top institution of its kind, and students and professionals who are selected for their MBA program are already the brightest and best in the country. But there were pronounced differences within the Harvard class that made the study on goal setting remarkable.
Harvard MBA graduates were surveyed with the question: “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”
Of the Harvard business school graduates interviewed, this is what they found:
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 same graduates were tracked down for a follow-up interview in 1989 to gauge how successful they’d become and if that at all correlated to their goal setting 10 years earlier.
The researchers were shocked what they found. Of the same Harvard students originally surveyed:
The 13% of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84% who had no goals at all.
Even more staggering, the 3% who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, 10 times as much as the other 97%...put together!
Let me highlight that astounding fact another way:
In a group of smart, successful people with no other apparent differences, the men and women who simply thought about their goals earned 200% more per year than those who had no goals!
And for the 3% who actually committed those goals to paper with a plan to reach them, they made 1,000% more.
The breakthrough finding was that when people set clear goals, and most importantly committed them to writing, they went on to achieve, succeed, and earn far more than their counterparts who had no specific goals.
These results were an iconic moment in the science of goal setting and study of the human mind, but surely the achievement of these Harvard goal-setters must be an anomaly?
A psychology professor at Dominican University in California, Dr. Gail Matthews, set to find out when she conducted a study of 267 participants on goal setting. She compared several test groups to see if the findings of the Harvard study stood up to scrutiny. She broke her participants into several groups:
Group 1 thought only about their goals but didn’t commit them to paper.
Group 2 thought about and wrote down their goals.
It went all the way up to Group 5, that not only wrote down their goals, but also wrote down action steps they could take to reach them, shared their goals with a supportive friend, and finally, made weekly progress reports to that friend.
Her work concluded that Group 2 – who simply committed their goals to paper - was 42% more likely to achieve them than Group 1.
And what about Group 5, who wrote down their goals, action steps they could take to reach them, shared their goals, and made a weekly progress report?
Incredibly, that group achieved their goals at a 78% higher rate than Group 1.
The most comprehensive research into goal setting took place in 2011, when a mega-analysis combined the findings of 38 smaller studies that took place before.
It introduced new data to the science of goal setting that revealed only 14-17% of people have any goals in mind, and less than 3% ever commit their goals to writing. With the average person holding more than 1,500 thoughts per minute, it’s no wonder even the loftiest goals eventually fade away and fall short.
But the good news is that the conclusions of these studies proves there is a simple formula to successfully achieving your goals, no matter who you are or what you want to accomplish.
We’ll summarize the key lessons of these studies and share the checklist for achieving your goals in part two of this blog.