The Science Of Goal Setting

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”

To create long lasting habits and reach your goals it is essential you make a good plan, write them down and form a binding contract preferably with penalties if you break it. Research by Dr Matthews of Dominican University suggests that people who write down their goals benefit from a 76% success rate of achieving them compared to only 43% for those who don’t. And according to research by and Professor Ian Ayres of Yale University, you can increase that success rate to 87.1% if you write a binding contract with financial penalties attached if you fail to maintain your habits and not reach your goals.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development also did detailed research into goal setting in the workplace and concluded:

The Harvard/Yale MBA Business School Studies on Goal Setting

Maybe you have heard of the famous 1979 Harvard MBA study on goal setting? Unfortunately, as Dr Matthews discovered, and prompted her to conduct her own research, there is no truth to the story. It is just an urban legend.

The story goes that the graduating class were asked a single question about their goals in life:

“Have you set written goals and created a plan for their attainment?”

Prior to graduation, it was determined that:

  • 84% of the entire class had set no goals at all
  • 13% of the class had set written goals but had no concrete plans
  • 3% of the class had both written goals and concrete plans

The students were contacted 10 years later and asked how well they had done in life:

  • 13% of the class had set written goals, but had not created plans and were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class that had set no goals at all
  • 3% of the class that had both written goals down and made a plan were making ten times as much as the other 97% of the class.

Probably the leader in the field of goal setting is Dr Edwin Locke. Locke wanted to answer one simple question:

“Why do some people perform better on tasks than others?”

After decades of research, Locke and his colleagues concluded there are 6 key points you have to consider when you set goals:

  1. The more difficult the goal, the greater the achievement
  2. The more specific or explicit the goal, the more precisely performance is regulated
  3. Goals that are both specific and difficult lead to the highest performance
  4. Commitment to goals is most critical when goals are specific and difficult. Goal commitment is the degree to which you are genuinely attached to and determined to reach the goals
  5. High commitment to goals is attained when (a) the individual is convinced that the goal is important; and (b) the individual is convinced that the goal is attainable (or that, at least, progress can be made toward it)
  6. Goal setting is most effective when there is feedback showing progress in relation to the goal

“You are not lazy. You simply have impotent goals – that is, goals that do not inspire you.”

To be successful you need to create goals that motivate you, and to achieve that you need to balance the motivation in your favour. You need the Value of your goals high enough that you happily get on with what you need to do. The Expectancy has to be high enough so you feel the goal is attainable. The Impulsiveness needs to be low so you don’t get distracted along the way. And the Delay has to be as short as possible so you feel like it is easily within your reach.

When you know your goals intimately, can describe them in detail and have them written down, you will know if they are important to you and whether you have the commitment to work continuously towards them, even when the going gets tough.

A recent study attributed 6 key characteristics to the financial success of 45 self-made entrepreneurs and investors with net assets of between $30 million and $1 billion.

  1. Set out and write down financial goals
  2. Follow advice in popular wealth literature to the letter
  3. Set specific financial goals
  4. Set precise deadlines for achieving them
  5. Define milestones for the coming year
  6. Regularly review achievements and failures

Financial goals are important, but it’s also wise to be healthy and happy when striving for them. There are already too many unhappy rich people in the world and achieving financial freedom and then being too ill to enjoy it isn’t good planning either. To that end, it is recommended you pay special attention to the final chapter in this guide, the true fundamentals for success: Diet, Sleep and Exercise.

Goal Setting Template

This template is a selection of the best goal setting questions from leaders in the field. The template takes you through the process to create, prepare and plan goals, systems, processes, habits and much more that will help you tip the Motivation Equation in your favour.

You can print out the goal setting template below or download a printable pdf version here.

Goals

Write down as many goals as you can that you want to achieve. It doesn’t matter how big or ambitious they are, or how small and inconsequential. You will probably find many of them fall into categories Don’t worry if it seems like there are too many. If you can reach 100 you are doing well. You can find 150 Bucket List ideas here if you need some ideas.

  • Reach your optimum weight
  • Maintain your optimum body fat percentage
  • Go to the gym 3 times per week
  • Cut our sugar from your diet
  • Win a fitness competition

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That One Thing?

Of all of the goals you have listed, which one, if you were able to achieve or do on a consistent basis would make the biggest difference to your life right now?

  • Get the job you want
  • Stay below your optimum weight
  • Be happy
  • Be more confident around work colleagues
  • Stop drinking alcohol

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Direction

Describe who you would have to become and what type of personality traits and characteristics you would need to adopt to reach your goals?

  • Become more confident
  • Take your health more seriously
  • Become a better parent
  • Be more assertive with people

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Available Resources

What experiences from your past can help you reach your goals? Who or what do you know right now, or need to know, to help you reach your goals?

  • I lost weight 5 years ago for my wedding
  • I was resolute and had a strong reason to lose the weight
  • I went to the gym with my best friend so we could motivate each other
  • I bought a special set of scales to monitor my progress
  • A coach to keep me on track

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Systems

What systems can you design to help you maintain your habits and processes like clockwork?

  • Search online for a personal finance planner
  • On Fridays, download and import my latest bank account transactions into a spreadsheet
  • Double check my bank balance and transactions
  • Calculate a 6 months forecast
  • Add any extra known future expenses
  • Calculate a budget for the months ahead

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Processes

What do you need to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach your goals?

  • Check bank transactions every day
  • Write 100 words before having breakfast
  • Make food on Monday evenings for the whole week
  • Meditate as soon as I wake up

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Mini Habits

What min habits can you create to build your self-efficacy and make sure you stay on track?

A mini habit is a habit that is very easy to accomplish, like doing just 1 press up every day. The power of mini habits is they start to build self-efficacy, which is belief in your own ability to do something. When you realise that you can do 1 press up per day, it gives you the confidence and belief in your ability to maintain a habit. The trick is to keep it so easy that you can’t fail. 

  • I’ll do 1 press up every day
  • I’ll learn 2 new foreign language words every morning
  • I’ll read 10 pages of my university course work every night
  • I’ll run on the spot for every advert during [insert your favourite TV program]

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Milestones

List some milestones you will reach on the way to achieving your main goals. Start big and then break them down into smaller ones.

  • Buy a new luxury car
  • Move to a bigger house
  • Get promoted at work
  • Sell your business
  • Run 1 mile
  • Do 10 press ups

Instant

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Medium

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Long

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Metrics

What can you use to measure your progress?

  • Evernote to manage my tasks
  • Rescuetime to log time spent online
  • Fitbit to track my exercise routines
  • A calendar to track how many days I have spent writing my book

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Contracts With Yourself

According to a Harvard Business Review study, people who elect to suffer a financial penalty for not reaching a goal increased their chances of success at reaching their goals by 82.8%. And if the money is going to a charity the person dislikes, the success rate is even higher at 87.1%.

Write a tight, binding contract with yourself and if possible include some financial penalties for not maintaining the habit or reaching your goals.

  • I hereby promise to work until my finances are completely up to date every Friday. Signed…
  • I will do my mini habits EVERY day without fail or give £100 to the local dog shelter
  • I am 100% committed to NEVER eating sugar again and if I do or I will give £1,000 to…

 

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Next Step

What would the highest version of you do right now? If you completely focused on your ‘one thing’ goal, what would you do right now? What do you need to do right now to take a step towards your goals?

Now go do it!

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