Goal Setting Part 1: The Importance of Goals

We all have the ability to accomplish any and all goals we set for ourselves. So why do we not accomplish our goals? Over the next few days, we’re going to explore goals, their importance, their attainment and what blocks our success.

Mark McCormack, in his book, “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School,” wrote about a study conducted on students in the Harvard Business School MBA program in 1979. They were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” The results were: 3% had written goals and plans; 13% had unwritten goals; 84% had no goals. The same group was then interviewed ten years later. What were the results? Read on to find out.

What is your answer to the study question?

Most people have wishes. We wish things were better. We wish our practices would get busy. We want a positive change, but we have a vague sense of what that outcome might be. For your wish to be a goal, it must be clear, written and specific. It must be easily described. It must be measurable. It must be within a time framework. The last two requirements let you know when you have achieved it.

“I want my business to grow,” is a wish. “I want 20 more clients,” is a wish. “I want 20 new clients by the end of next month,” is a goal. There is a way to make your written goals even more empowering. State them in the present tense, as if you have already attained them. This way your goals also become affirmations, “I have 20 new clients by March 31.” We are going to discuss in a later post why stating it in the present tense is so powerful.

The reason why a clear, written, specific, time-sensitive and measurable goal is so critical to your success is found in the second part of the Harvard study question: ” . . . and made plans to achieve them.” Without a goal, you cannot write a usable or meaningful plan. As Stephen Covey states in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” for everything ever created, there are two creations: the first is the thought, the second is the implementation of the thought. Every building, every successful project is started with the end in mind. That is all a goal is: a clear description of the end product. We are going to talk in a later blog post about planning.

So why do people not have written goals? Brian Tracy gives four reasons:

  1. They don’t realize the importance of goals. Many of us (myself included), were raised by parents who did not have goals. Without being taught goal-setting, we end up going on in life as we saw our parents go. Furthermore, if the people with whom we spend most of our time are not goal-setters, then it becomes less likely that we will be.
  2. They don’t know how to set goals. Most of us do not even know what a goal is. Goal-setting is not taught in school (in fact that is the premise of McCormack’s book).
  3. They fear failure. Fear of failure will lead to setting the bar so low, that whatever one attempts, they will not fail. This limits success because growth only comes through risk and stretching outside our comfort zone. Failure is not the end of the world, it is the key to success–it is where our greatest lessons are learned. Everyone has heard that Thomas Edison had 10,000 “failures” before he found the key to the incandescent light bulb.
  4. They fear rejection. Many of us come up with a great idea and a great goal, and then tell someone close to us. The person, not getting it, criticizes us and the idea. We quickly back down, never giving the idea a chance. It is best to share your goals only with those who will support and encourage you.

So what were the results of that Harvard study? The 13% who had goals were twice as successful as the 84% who had no goals. So, if you don’t have goals, it is likely that just having one, but not writing it down is enough to double your income. But there is more: the 3% who had clear written goals were making 1000% more on average, than the other 97% combined!

Tom Hopkins says, “Goals are the fuel in the furnace of achievement”.  How many of us sit before that cold furnace? Now that we know what fuels it, what will it take for your furnace to get hot?

’til next time,


One Response to Goal Setting Part 1: The Importance of Goals

  1. Shelley says:

    Great post. Goal setting is so important as you’ve shown.

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