Looking across the park earlier in the week at the lone soccer goal.

in Becoming an Expert

Do Goals Actually Help You Succeed?

Sharpen your pencils and dust off the journal – it’s time for the annual goal fest. Time to get ready for the impending New Year (or not). Corbett reminds us in a blog entry this week that sometimes setting goals can work against us.

So why do we do it? For decades now, goal setting has been a cornerstone of personal development. I first got a taste of it back in 1990(ish) when my wife and I had a brief Amway moment. Back then Zig Ziglar was the hero of the hour and his books and tapes were key tools of the trade. He, and thousands of others since, touted a now well worn story of a university study on goal achievement.

‘The study’ reportedly originates from Yale (Harvard in some versions) and focusses on the class of 1953 (’79 in some versions). It apparently found that 10 years after graduation, the 3% of graduates who wrote down their goals when they finished university had accumulated more wealth than the other 97% combined.

The study has been offered up time and again as compelling evidence that writing down your goals produces results and has thus inspired millions to do so.

But Is It Real?

It turns out that the study probably never happened and no-one seems to know who actually started the apparent myth.

Let’s assume for a moment though that the study did actually happen and the conclusions are generally as reported:

  • The conclusion implies that writing/setting the goal is the primary cause and achieving the goal is the effect. Would that particular 3% have achieved the outcome even if they hadn’t written them down? In other words, was goal achievement already a characteristic of those people and writing down goals simply an expression of that trait?
  • The results simply say the top 3% were wealthier than the rest but don’t actually reference the goals themselves. Were the goals only financial? Were there any goals that they didn’t achieve? If so, what percentage? And though they were wealthy, was that the only measure of success? Were they happy? What was the quality of their relationships, health, personal and spiritual fulfilment?
  • Though the 97% wasn’t as wealthy as the 3%, does it necessarily mean that the 97% didn’t achieve any of their goals in life or were less fulfilled than that 3%?

We tend to overlook these flaws because the conclusion matches we want to believe – that there really is a simple key to achieving what we want (the same thing that made The Secret tremendously successful in more recent years).

There has however, been a subsequent study from Dominican University that concludes “writing one’s goal enhances goal achievement.” The study claims to be ‘sound scientific research’ but is flawed on a number of counts, including that it only ran for four weeks and that the ‘success’ of the participants was assessed subjectively by the participants themselves, some of whom would have had a natural bias to talk themselves up to relieve ‘performance anxiety’.

No doubt if someone was sufficiently motivated, they could compile a study that shows 97% of all written goals are never achieved (wouldn’t surprise me if it was more than 99%). From that, a university researcher could conclude that goal setting doesn’t work. But again, they’d be wrong, because goal setting does work – most of us have some experience of this. Most of us also have some experience that it doesn’t work. Therein lies the problem.

Results May Vary

Surveys and studies on such things are meaningless. Even personal past experience can be meaningless because it’s variable to the point that we can’t even predict our own outcomes reliably. It’s like using a survey to decide what type of ice cream we want. It depends on a number of factors, all of which are personal, circumstantial and even how we are feeling in that particular moment.

If goal setting is working for you, it’s working for you. If it’s not, it’s not. If it’s making you go crazy, causes anguish, or is tiresome and boring, it’s probably not working. It doesn’t mean that it won’t work in another case though.

Sometimes it works to be detailed, sometimes it works to be vague. Sometimes we’re active and creative, sometimes we’re passive. And sometimes we just go with the flow of life and achieve outcomes we never even considered.

What doesn’t work though is goal setting for the sake of goal setting.  Corbett sums it up nicely in his post,

Goal setting can be useful, but it can also be taken to extremes that become counter-productive.

***

How about you? Are you setting goals for next year or going “no goal”?

image: tworubies

The Difference Between Experts Who Earn Millions, and The Rest of Us (Hint: It’s Not About What You Know)

For a limited time, get access to over 100 hours of video training, plus The Web’s most active entrepreneurial community, for just $1.

Turning your skills and expertise into a way to support yourself is more doable than you might think.

There’s this big misconception about expertise, that you have to be one of the world’s top experts before you can earn a living from what you know.

But expertise isn’t an absolute. You might only be a 3, on a scale of 1 to 10, but there are plenty of 1’s and 2’s out there who would pay for your knowledge and experience, right now.

The key is to find a unique corner of your topic, to start building a tribe of people who trust you as their expert, not the expert, and to be resourceful about filling in the gaps by leveraging other experts when necessary.

This is why we built Fizzle, to teach you how to support yourself independently doing what you love on The Web. Fizzle is half training library, half supportive community, and it’s full of people like you who are building their thing online.

You’ll find big name courses in Fizzle, from well known and successful online business builders. We’re talking about courses like Book Yourself Solid (Michael Port), Start a Blog that Matters (Corbett Barr), and Connect With Anyone (Scott Dinsmore). And new courses are added every month.

And right now, you can get access to everything Fizzle offers, including the course library, the community, the live coaching sessions and the behind-the-scenes Founder Stories, all for just $1 for your first month.

Learn more and join Fizzle today for just $1 »


Since applying more and more from Fizzle, I’ve started making as much (sometimes more/month) from my online business as I do from my full-time job with a fraction of the weekly hours. It’s exhilarating. I owe you guys so much.
Preston Lee, graphicdesignblender.com


P.S. — we hope you’ll check Fizzle out, but we know it isn’t for everyone. We’re a little, um, different from your typical “business” training. Watch the video on the home page to see what I’m talking about. If it isn’t your style, no hard feelings :)