Top motivational myths, and why we don’t need them. Number one. Goal setting

We’ve all heard of myths haven’t we? Ancient Greek legends, Norse myths, even urban myths like the giant alligators in the New York sewers. But we have our own motivational myths too, and we love them.  Here’s a famous one:

There was a study done at Harvard between 1979 and 1989. Graduates of the MBA program were asked “Have you set clear written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” The results of that question were:

  • Only 3% had written goals and plans
  • 13% had goals but not in writing
  • 84% had no specific goals at all

10 years later Harvard interviewed the members of that class again and found:

1. The 13% who had goals but not in writing were earning on average twice as much as the 84% of those who had no goals at all

2. The 3% who had clear, written goals were earning on average 10 times as much as the other 97% of graduates all together. The only difference between the groups is the clarity of the goals they had for themselves’

It’s a fantastic story, isn’t it?  The power of written goals with deadlines.  Except that it never happened (nor at Yale in 1953).  Both universities still get asked about it often and have no record of it,  but the story’s been shared endlessly – go on, google it! And you still hear it being shared today.

So does that mean that having clear goals with deadlines and writing them down is  a waste of time? No! Goal setting, connecting with your goals, visualising, mental rehearsal, all of these are powerful tools.  Many successful people in business, sport, the arts, training and coaching testify to that.  In fact, a study conducted later by Gail Matthews PhD from Dominican University has shown similar positive results to the one that never happened, only a bit less dramatic.

So, like lots of myths, there’s some truth in this one.  But, like lots of myths, it’s just a story. And when someone challenges it, we’re going to look pretty foolish, aren’t we?

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