There is a famous story….
In 1953, researchers surveyed Yale’s graduating seniors to determine how many of them had specific, written goals for their future. The answer: 3%. Twenty years later, researchers polled the surviving members of the Class of 1953 — and found that the 3% with written goals had accumulated more personal financial wealth than the other 97% of the class combined!
I don’t imagine there’s a book or a training course on coaching that doesn’t emphasise the importance of goal setting. Indeed I’ve written about it here and examined the place of goals within an overall set of aims. The first part of the ARROW sequence is devoted to considering aims, with the setting of well formed goals and essential part of deciding how we specify success.
The Yale story goes some way to explaining the fixation with goal setting because it seems to prove the link with success, but why should this be so? Many believe it’s to do with activating something like a universal consciousness; that if you focus enough on what you want it will magically appear. Some of the self-help books even suggest that if your desire for a parking space is strong enough you will always find one free, but it doesn’t work for me.
My experience suggests the explanation is much more mundane.
It is our key principle of awareness at work once more. The more aware I am of my goal the more I notice factors in my situation that will lead me towards it; my brain automatically filters out stimulus not in keeping with my goal. If I set you a goal of spotting 6 yellow cars on your journey home, you may no notice that number, but you’ll see more than you would otherwise! We may not achieve our goals in full, but we’ll achieve more than we would without them.
By the way, despite it being a staple for motivational speakers for years, it appears the Yale story may be bogus. Nobody can find the original study. More evidence for the power of beliefs perhaps?