We’ve all been told at some point or another that the key to successfully achieving our dreams in life is setting goals.
This means thinking deeply about what we truly want to achieve in life and being very specific about how we’re going to get there.
And, it means intentionally putting it in writing … and more than just some vague notion on a repurposed sticky note.
But do real-world people actually do this? If they do, do they actually see the results in a way that makes establishing well-thought-out goals worth the time and effort?
And if so, how successful are they in achieving them?
Let’s take a look at the importance of goals and some enlightening goal-setting statistics to find out.
Statistic 1: Setting Specific Goals Increases Chances of Success 90% of the Time
Here in the sun-scorched state of Texas, when the forecast calls for a 90% chance of rain, we do a happy dance. That’s pretty darn certain.
Well, the same is true when it comes to setting specific goals and their probability of success.
This widely-referenced statistic is among the empirical evidence from a fairly recent study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews at the Dominican University of California. It found that people who wrote down their goals and shared them with a friend gained a significant percentage point improvement over those who did not.
But, unfortunately, the sad truth is …
Statistic 2: A Whopping 83% of People Have No Personal Goals
“Okay,” you might say, “how does knowing that help me?”
Humor me for a sec.
Consider these other statistics from other studies:
- Roughly 80% of Americans are not fully satisfied with their career (Zippia.com)
- A little under 80% of Americans are stressed out about their financial situation (CapitalOne.com)
- About 80% of Americans report feeling unhappy with how their body looks (Ipsos.com)
I find it interesting that the most popular New Year’s resolutions have to do with the same three groups: better careers, financial security, and physical health (statista.com).
While I may be bending some scientific rules by cross-referencing these unassociated studies, I still find the correlation between them fascinating:
The large majority of Americans seem to be oppressed by the same critical aspects of everyday life and, it seems to me, they all have something in common: Statistic 2.
Statistic 3: Less Than 3% of Americans Have Written Goals
… and not even 1% review, revise, and edit those goals actively (Brian Tracy International).
Why is this? If something is important to you enough to remember, don’t you write it down?
If you run out of toilet paper, you write it down on a grocery list.
If you keep forgetting trash day, you set a reminder on your phone.
So why not take the same approach with your goals? Aren’t your life’s ambitions more important than stocking up on Charmin and dragging the garbage to the curb?
It’s this lack of goal-setting that explains why a lot of people feel like their lives are going nowhere. They want to make something of themselves, but they don’t know how to get there, so they just keep on doing what they’ve always done: nothing.
And when nothing changes, nothing changes.
Statistic 4: Of All People Who Set New Year’s Resolutions, 92% Fail
Wow. Thanks for that brilliant ray of sunshine.
But before you get too down in the dumps (we’ll get you out in the following section), it’s important to note two key points here:
According to a study performed by Professor Richard Wiseman back in 2007, people fail achieving their new year’s resolutions because they …
- … set unrealistically high goals and tried to achieve too much becoming overwhelmed
- … set goals on impulse (like on New Year’s Eve) rather than through careful, intentional planning
- … took the same approach towards realizing their goals as last year … when they also failed
- … were vague about how they planned to achieve their goals
Statistic 5: Only 8% of People Achieve Their New Year’s Resolutions
I’ve got some ridiculously great news: to be among the elite 8% who enjoy the successful achievement of their annual goals, YOU NEED TO BE AS SMART AS A 5TH GRADER.
(I taught 5th grade for 13 years … and was awesome at it. So, I’m qualified to make this claim.)
When I was a middle-school math teacher, one of the biggest challenges was NOT helping my students master mathematics.
Rather, it was teaching them how to overcome their (seeming) limitations by setting realistic, achievable goals and committing to a strategy to achieve those goals.
The results of Prof. Wiseman’s study supports this. He provides the same advice to those chasing a new year resolution that I used to give to my students:
- Begin with ONE area of your life you would like to change and laser-focus on it.
- There’s nothing magic about January 1st. Spend days (or longer) deciding what you really want to achieve and formulate your plan; then act on it, regardless of the date.
- Whatever you do, don’t take the same approach you did last time if it didn’t work out.
- Be über-specific about what you want, why you want it, how you’re going to get it, and when you are determined to achieve it. (And fit a where in there if you can …)
- Make Your Goal Authentic to YOU. Don’t copy, borrow, or steal ideas from others. Dig deep and figure out what you really want.
- Make SMART goals. (Learn more about S.M.A.R.T. target-setting methods.)
These tips highlight the significant differences between those who succeed in reaching their goals and those who just wish they could.
If you want to be among the elite 8% successful people, you have to go beyond “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to make more money.” You need to take those thoughts and turn them into actionable steps.
Statistic 6: Written Goals Are 42% More Likely to be Achieved Than Unwritten Goals
The widely-referenced work of Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California regarding goal setting and success indicates that people who write down their specific goal will be 42% more likely to achieve it.
This tells us something: it doesn’t matter how small or large the goal is; what matters is that we actually WRITE DOWN AN ACTION PLAN and TAKE ACTION … the latter significantly enhancing that 42% chance of success.
There may be something special about the simple act of writing your goals on paper which helps to turn ideas into tangible, detailed plans – maybe it helps make dreams seem closer and more achievable.
Even if you’re not someone who enjoys planning out every step, writing down your goals can still be a helpful way to bring yourself closer to the life you want.
Statistic 7: 76% of People Who Make Their Written Goals Public Achieve Them
Admittedly, this part is hard for me. I tend to keep my goals and aspirations close to my chest. Why?
Well, if I’m honest, I’m afraid of failing and other’s knowing about it. That’s a silly and even egotistical notion, I know. But, it’s true for many of us.
We all tend to be silly and egotistical … and it stands in our way of having the life we dream of.
According to a report by Michigan State University (citing Dr. Gail Matthews), sharing your written goals, plan of action, and weekly progress (performance reviews) with a trusted friend or advisor will grant you a much greater chance of being successful than those without accountability.
The flip side to this statistic is that only 43% of people who have written goals on paper and DON’T share their progress with someone achieve success. That’s a 33 percent improvement for those that are held accountable!
The science proves it: accountability works!
Statistic 8: Visual Reminders of a Goal Builds Confidence in 67% of Goal Setters
Sometimes, seeing is believing.
In a study conducted by TD Bank, it was found that 67% of participants who used visual reminders on a daily basis to stay focused on their long-term goals boosted their confidence in achieving their goals.
Visual reminders can be anything from sticky notes with affirmations or motivational quotes placed around your home or office; to a vision board filled with pictures and keywords about your goal; or even wall calendars with milestones and deadlines for the achievement of said goals.
Whatever visual aid you use, it is important to keep the big picture in constant view so that it can act as a source of inspiration when things feel overwhelming.
Seeing progress toward our individual goals helps us stay focused on the end result, and is a great way to build confidence in our ability to achieve it.
Statistic 9: 76% of People Feel More Confidence When They Visualize Their Goals
Sacrificing in the present for a dream in the future can get rough.
We can start to feel like our lives are on hold and that there’s no end in sight. This is especially true when we’ve set highly challenging goals, so it pays to take a step back from time to time and mentally or even physically visualize what success looks like.
Visualization is a powerful tool, as it helps to create an image in our minds that reaffirms our dedication and commitment to what we want.
This can take the form of a journal in which we’ve recorded the hopes and dreams we’re working towards and re-reading it from time to time, a picture of where we’re working towards living, daydreaming about the day when we’ve realized our dream … and what it will feel like.
It can also provide us with a sense of hope and renewed energy when times get tough. So, if you’re feeling down in the dumps, take a few minutes to close your eyes and imagine what success WILL look like WHEN you reach your goal.
Statistic 10: You Have 100% to Gain and 0% to Lose
This astonishing statistic is the result of …
… GETTING STARTED!
Whether you’re a CEO, management professional, team member, team leader … or you’re just done with your current situation in life …
When we start to make positive changes in our life, no matter how small they may be, we open ourselves up to a world of possibility and opportunity that was previously unavailable to us.
We become incredibly empowered when we take action towards something good for ourselves, as it allows us to take control over our lives rather than letting life control us.
It’s a process of growth and evolution, and the best part is that even if we don’t always reach our goals, the process of trying and learning will leave us more knowledgeable, experienced, and stronger than before – which can be an invaluable asset in life.
So, don’t worry about failing – you have 100% to gain and 0% to lose! All that matters is that you take the first step, celebrate, and then … take the next one, repeat.
Good luck on your journey toward success!