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Goal Setting Advantage - Legend or Logic

Goal Setting Advantage - Legend or Logic



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Published by John Kenworthy
An infamous case study from Yale in 1953 is often used to convince everyone about goal-setting - the only issue with it, is that the study is a myth - an urban legend.
Is there any genuine evidence to support goal-setting?
An infamous case study from Yale in 1953 is often used to convince everyone about goal-setting - the only issue with it, is that the study is a myth - an urban legend.
Is there any genuine evidence to support goal-setting?

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: John Kenworthy on Aug 25, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Goal Setting AdvantageLegend or Logic?
GAINMORE™ Leadership e-guide
By Dr John Kenworthy
For far too long, consultants, trainers, guru’s and leaders have beenmisleading us about goal setting. We keep hearing the same myth thatpeople with written goals achieve greater success in life. I fell foul of thisstory myself - after all, it cam from the pages of a famous author and I’veseen it repeated again and again. Most recently in an article published by theProfessional Golfers Association. The trouble is, that this story becomeslinked with the concept of setting SMART goals, for which there is someevidence, but written goals? So, I felt that it was time to set the record alittle straighter and based on just a little bit of real research…Goal-setting is one of those things that people, it seems, are near unanimouson its importance to life, career, success, achievement. And there are a greatmany speakers who advocate goal-setting. The latest ‘fad’ in this is TheSecret - Rhonda Byrne’s now famous TV/Film Documentary which, in anutshell, purports that people who envision what they want will attract itsactualisation into their life. Now, I’m not going to detract from this appealingidea because there is something in it - but it isn’t new by any means, it’s beenwritten in the Bible for several hundred years. There are others including ZigZiglar and Anthony Robbins - both of whom quote an oft-used story about theeffectiveness of goal-setting: This is the Yale Study of 1953 - some say it isHarvard, and some challenge the year - it matters not, since the study is anurban myth. Let me remind you of the story, you may have heard variationsand the precise percentages vary:Yale researchers surveyed the graduating class of 1953 to determine howmany of them has specific, written goals for their future. 3% of them had.Twenty years later, the researchers followed up with the surviving membersof the class and discovered that the 3% with written goals had accumulatedmore personal wealth than the remaining 97% combined!I repeat - this ‘study’ is an urban myth - whilst it is quoted by some ‘authorities’ and famous gurus on management and self-leadership, there isNO record of the study and NO paper on it. Yet it’s allure is understandable - itfeeds beautifully into the concept that in order for you to accumulate wealth(aka be successful) not only must you have specific goals, but you must writethem down. For someone selling a process on written goal setting (see ZigZiglar and Tony Robbins) it ‘proves’ the process.So is goal-setting really important, or is it just a load of twaddle? To answerthis question, rather than rely on stories of spurious origin, it’s important tohave some robust research to find out if there’s anything in it.
What is a goal?
Hold on just a moment though, what do we mean by a ‘goal’? Everyone atsome point in their life has heard that it is important for us to have goals.Goals provide you a map to your future, whether in business, life, career orindeed sport. It seems obvious, but a football team playing without a goal toaim for is just kicking a ball around. But, other than the more obviousphysical goals as the target of a particular game, what exactly is a goal? Andhow do you know when you have achieved it? Is it even very important tohave goals? A sporting goal is a useful analogy though, here we are moreinterested in the non-sporting variety.The OED definition of a goal is “an aim or a desired result”. That’s useful, but Iprefer the Wikipedia version which defines a goal as “a specific, intendedresult of strategy.” They amount, ultimately to the same thing: the intendedachievement of a desired result. The dictionary definition, however, suggeststhat the goal exists with or without you. Why is this important? I hear somequestion already. Let me share an example:On the horizon is a mountain, its peak visible on this glorious day. It is yourgoal. You are aiming to reach the peak of this mountain.According to the dictionary the goal is the mountain peak. According to theencyclopaedia, the intended result is that you reach the mountain peak as aresult of the journey (intended strategy) you are making.
What’s important, the existence of the goal or the journeyto its attainment?
Let me refer briefly back to soccer… Is the existence of the goal at the end of the pitch the thing that makes the game, or is it the strategy (and tactics)employed by players to score (reach) the goal?The reason for being pedantic at this stage is to stress that we refer (inEnglish) to goal as both an entity and as the intended result of our actions.For the purposes of this article, I refer to goal as both - an entity that we areable to describe in one or more of the five senses we enjoy and as a specific,intended result. I believe that it is critical that a goal can be described in oneor more of our senses - otherwise we will never know what it is.
“A man without a goal, you are like a ship without a rudder.” ThomasCarlyle
You know people, perhaps yourself, who would be lost without a “To Do” list.Daily, weekly, monthly tasks that result in specific intended results. Manypeople will consider this as their goals. Indeed, you can call them ‘goals’ if youwish. But I want to distinguish this concept further. I call these daily, weekly,monthly tasks “Outcomes” - they are important steps on the way to achievinggoals but they are a small part of the overall intended result.

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