Life is never perfect.
Even though there are lots of well-intended authors, speakers or trainers who wholeheartedly aim to help people, often some of their materials are not based on reality.
The self-help industry is one of the examples.
There are tons of myths out there in the market. If we don't distinguish between great solid advice from mediocre re-hashed stuff, we're just going to do more harm than good on ourselves.
So let's break down one of the biggest myths of goal-setting today.
You may have heard about a renowned Harvard/Yale study in the 1980s which asked students this question: "Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?"
The purported result was that 13% of the students who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84% who had no goals at all. More astonishingly, 3% of those who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, 10 times as much as the other 97% combined.
I remember first hearing this "study" about 3 years ago when I was going through a famous Personal Power kind of program from one of my most admired role models.
Having conducted some research, I found that this Harvard/Yale study was actually originated from a book published also in the 1980s called What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Business School: Notes from a Street-smart Executive by Mark Mccormack.
But the problem is, I didn't seem to be able to find the actual study from either Harvard or Yale. Maybe it is just my incompetence, but it seems like the "study" was either an urban legend or it's confidential to the FBIs.
Now, whether this goal-setting study is real or not, the next more important question is: "Is writing down our goals better to achieve what we want?"
Well, I'm glad that there's an actual study on this.
In 2011, Dr. Gail Matthews, psychology professor at Dominican University, found that "more than 70% of the participants who sent weekly updates to a friend reported successful goal achievement (completely accomplished their goal or were more than half way there), compared to 35% of those who kept their goals to themselves, without writing them down."
Put it simply, she found that to increase one's chance of achieving their goals, it's essential that you combine public accountability, consistency, and writing down your goals.
"Why does writing goals down work?", you may ask.
In my experience, there are 3 main reasons.
Reason #1 You Activate The Power Of Commitment & Consistency
When we start something new and perform the first small action of a whole task, we will create an "open loop" where we feel compelled to finish things we've initiated. If not, we will generate a cognitive dissonance that makes us uncomfortable.
When you write your goals down, you're declaring to yourself that you are going to achieve them. You're literally transforming intangible thoughts in your mind into a written tangible reality.
That's why a simple action of writing things down will trigger your desire to remain consistent to what you've started and commit to finishing it.
Reason #2 You Activate The Power Of Clarity
Writing goals down is like picking a final destination of where you want to go.
If you don't know the "where", you have zero clarity on the "whats" and "hows" to get there.
If you don't at least see the bigger picture, you have zero motivation or courage to move to the next checkpoint.
Clarity brings the peace of mind required for goal achievement.
Reason #3 The Pen Is Mightier Than The Keyboard
In 2014, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of University of California, found that note-taking by hand are better than taking notes on laptops because the processing that occurs during the act of note taking improves learning and retention.
The process of writing things down takes a longer time, so it encodes the information more deeply in memory and your brain assigns a higher degree of importance to the process.
I still remember vividly that back in my university years, when I attended the law lectures, group seminars, or small class tutorials, I was always compelled to type things verbatim into the Word document simply because I knew that typing was much faster so I naturally didn't want to "miss anything".
Well, no wonder why I can't remember a single thing I had learnt... (Ha!)
Maybe Einstein is right again, "Paper is to write things down that we need to remember. Our brains are used to think."
So my friend, when it comes to important things like realizing your dream goals, stop using your computer or mobile device.
Pick a 1-2 hours' time slot in the weekend, sit down quietly without distractions, and use your hand to write down things you want.