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!, a study reveals just how effective written goals can be. Here is what Tracy reports:

In 1979, MBA graduates were asked if they had clear, written goals for their future and made plans to accomplish them. Only 3% of the graduates said yes. 13% had goals, but not in writing, and fully 84% had no specific goals at all.

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

This would make 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 Goal-Setting is Hard

There are four reasons people don’t set clear goals and write them out. Many people say they can’t take the time to sit and write. But no one is that busy. The real reasons are probably deeper because 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:

  • First, most people don’t realize the importance of goals. If you grew up in a home where no one has goals or you socialize with a group where goals are neither discussed nor valued, you could 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 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,” and “getting fit,” without breaking these wishes down into their 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.
  • They fear failure. If goals aren’t written down, we can change them to match what is achieved without feeling failure. Furthermore, many people make the mistake of setting easily attained goals to avoid failing. They go through life functioning at suboptimal levels rather than at the level they are truly capable of.
  • They fear rejection. People don’t set clear, written goals because they fear being seen as ridiculous if they fail. They don’t want to face criticism or be seen as incapable or worthy.

3 Reasons Your Goal-Setting May Not Work 

You may already have in mind three important goals for yourself that you’ve wanted 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—instead, 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 help you return after a setback.

Once you have aligned your goals with your identity, values, and life purpose, you will find them easier to accomplish. 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 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, but a professionally trained coach is an expert at helping you with the goal-setting process to ensure that your goals align with your values.

Are you looking for a professionally trained coach to help guide you through goal-setting? I’d love to work with you to set personal and professional success goals. Schedule a free exploratory call here.

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