In 1979 researchers asked Harvard MBA graduates about their goals. 84% had no specific goals, 13% had goals but they weren’t committed to paper. Just 3% had clear, written goals with plans to achieve them. In 1989, the reviewers interviewed them again and found that the 3% who had goals were earning ten times as much as the other 97% put together. Incredible right? Just one thing. The study is a lie. It never happened. In fact you’ll find a version of it that happened at Yale university in 1953. That’s also fiction. Yet there are thousands of references to this “scientific study” on Google. It has been cited by many personal development luminaries including Anthony Robbins and Brian Tracy. Many years ago I spoke about it on one of my audiobooks before a kind listener alerted me to the truth.
Unfortunately the personal growth field has propagated many myths about success. Why? Often the myths contain seeds of truth. Research does show that people with clear, written well-formulated goals tend to be more successful than those without. Exaggerate that truth with a fictional study and you give me an even more compelling reason to write down my goals. The lie almost seems worth it. The problem is that these exaggerations set us up for disappointment. If I write down my goals and don’t start achieving massive success I may start to think there is something wrong with me and quickly give up. Worse, I may think that writing down goals is the only thing that’s required for success.
I love the personal development field. It’s given me the tools to live the life of my dreams but I also think its time to separate fact from fiction. Fact is not always as sensational as fiction but its way more empowering.