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Harvard Study… Smart Goals and You | AboutLeaders.com
Article by Ron Whitaker
January 4, 2012
65 Comments


SMART GoalsSo what’s your plan?

If you’re like most of us you have some goals in mind, but let’s go one step further and put together some SMART goals.

SMART goals will give you a game plan that makes it much easier to make decisions and helps keep you on track.

Just the process of writing down SMART goals will go a long way, but defining the reasons for accomplishing those goals makes all the difference in accomplishing them. Writing down goals is a great first step because it puts you in the top 3% of the population. The second step and the secret to making your goals come to life are putting enough reasons behind the goals to make them a reality.

What do you think the difference is between having 2 reasons to achieve a goal and having 100 reasons? When you have 100 reasons, reaching a goal is pretty much a certainty. Reasons are motivation and motivation is the fuel that takes you where you want to go. Write down all the reasons you have for accomplishing each goal. When you have 25 or more reasons for a goal – it’s important to you. When there are few reasons to accomplish a goal then it’s just not a match for you.

Some Urban Legends Make Sense

Urban legend says that many years ago an interesting and telling study was conducted with a class of Harvard MBA students. I cannot find solid documentation that the study was in fact conducted, so according to legend each student was asked, “Have you set written goals for your future?” 3% of the students reported that they had written goals; 10% reported they had goals generally in mind, but not in writing; and 87% reported they had no specific goals at all.

Harvard Business School Goal Percentages

Now jump ahead 10 years. The same students were interviewed again and the results were astounding! The 10 percent of the students who had goals generally in mind were earning, on average, twice as much as the 87 percent who had no goals at all. This is where it gets really interesting because the three percent who had written goals were earning, on average, 10 times more than the other 97 percent combined.

earnings from goalsIn my experience, working with thousands of people in hundreds of companies, the Harvard study, whether actually conducted or not, sounds right. Most people just don’t have written goals. I believe there are four major reasons why people don’t set goals:

  1. Most people don’t recognize the value and impact of goals. If your friends, family, and peers don’t have written goals, what’s the chance you will have written goals?
  2. The vast majority of people have never had any training in goal setting so they don’t know how to go about SMARTgoals. When goals are set they’re usually general and not well thought out. Goals that are not written, specific, and measurable are only dreams.
  3. People fear failure and will avoid any failures if at all possible. Of course, any failure bruises the ego, but failures are a requirement to achieving success. The trick is to keep from sabotaging yourself by not setting goals to avoid failures.
  4. People fear that others will be critical of them if they don’t achieve their goals. To overcome this, keep your goals to yourself. Then, when you reach some of your goals and experience some success, show others your achievements.

Make a habit of focusing on the things you want, staying positive, and moving consistently toward the outcomes that are most important to you. Setting goals is a wonderfully powerful process for envisioning your ideal future, and for motivating yourself to turn your vision into reality.

The first step in planning personal goals is to consider what you really want. This isn’t necessarily the time to go big or go home. It’s no fun to only have goals that take 10 years to achieve. Start with smaller short term goals and work up, but keep the big picture in mind.

SMART Goals

Use the SMART goal setting technique to make it easier to set goals that you will accomplish. Download the goal setting worksheet and use it. Feel free to share this form with everyone.

SMART stands for:

  • Specific – Keep goals clear, concise and simple
  • Measurable – Define action plans to measure
  • Achievable – Keep goals incremental
  • Realistic – Match goals to needs and ambitions
  • Timetable – Add milestones and completion dates

Action Plan

Do some goal setting in the following areas or in categories of your own that are important to you:

  • Family – Relationship with spouse, children, and extended family.
  • Career – What do you want achieve from your career?
  • Financial – What do you want to earn? How will you make it happen?
  • Education – What skills will you need to achieve your goals?
  • Attitude – Are there attitudes that are holding you back?
  • Physical – Are there health goals that you want to achieve?
  • Avocation – Do you have a hobby that is important to you?
  • Service – How will you make a difference in your community?

Life Wheel

Use the Life Wheel to see how well rounded your goals are. For example, are all of your goals career or financial oriented? If so, your wheel would be very lopsided and you would be missing some fun and enjoyable areas that make life fun.

The Life Wheel will help you set goals that fit the complete picture of your life. Just be certain that your goals fit your core values. When you have goals in each of the areas you will be on your way to living your dreams.

Identify one or more goals in each category that reflects what you want in life. While you are in this process, make sure that the goals are genuinely what you want, not goals your family, or employer might want. If you have a spouse, discuss what he or she thinks is important, but make sure the goals you commit to are goals you believe in.

Leadership Skills TakeawayThe bottom line is it’s hard either way: Hard to be aimless and living from paycheck to paycheck and hard to be laser focused on what you want out of life and determined to get it. So, identify your goals, work on them, and live your dreams!

I’d Like Your Feedback

What’s been your experience with goal setting and SMART goals? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.

Want more leadership inspiration? Download our ultimate eBook with our easy to use Motivational Checklist.

Ron Whitaker

Ron is an accomplished entrepreneur involved in developing multiple businesses from the ground up. He is the co-founder of About Leaders, an author, and a start up consultant and investor. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Very useful and informative tool. I believe that I will visit this site on occasion to keep focus on what is important and to lay the ground work for goal establishment and measurement. I can honestly say that I have not been part of that 3% that has written them down but have always had a general idea of what those goals were. I am going to take the initiative and start doing so. I think that this website will be an excellent source for further developing my leadership skills and living a more fullfilled life. I look forward to the future visits.

  • Thanks, Jeff. I appreciate your comments and glad you found this article useful. If you have a story about a leadership you would like to contribute, let me know.

  • This article was amazing to read, so much insight on goal setting and smart goals; very informative. your point of veiw was clear and precise, thank you.

  • Patricia Edwards

    I, also have been in the 3% of goal setting. I plan on using this web site more to assist me in setting my goals and leadership.

  • Do you have an available copy of the circle that can be populated, or is it just made from shapes.

    TM

  • Unfortunately the study is an urban myth. I personally would not reference it for that reason alone but to each his own. Here is a link that should be useful to you.
    http://cdn.sidsavara.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/researchsummary2.pdf

  • I love the diagrams and the ‘life wheel’….the whole article sounds like me Tony Robbins goal setting workshop.

  • Michael Crawford

    This article and the studies are truly amazing. I will definitely apply these S.M.A.R.T Goal worksheet and the action planning to my daily routine. Thank you Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker

  • Debra Crutchfield

    This article explain exactly how to accomplish your goals in life. Never give up and try your best to accomplish your lifes expectations.

  • I really enjoy your helpful hints and I enjoy using your technique

  • Latrisha Edwards

    Reading this article gave me insight on things. I never thouht about just taking time to sit down and write out my goals andd write the reasons for them. That is defently something I will be doing.

  • Using this SMART goal tool for planning has really improved my daily life. I have been apart of the 13% that generally have their goals in mind far too long. This tool helps those, such as myself, who are always on the go. I will definitely be spreading the word and continue using the goal setting sheets.

  • Evelyn,

    Thanks for the kind words! And spreading the word.

    Ron

  • I feel that I have been the 13%,but after reading your article I will become a part of the 3%.

  • The article really ope my eyes to setting goals and acheiving them. I know I have to stay focused and plan ahead and make sure that the goal that I am aiming for is attainable. Thanks for sharing this article.

  • I think I like the idea that they explain here

  • My years in the Army, goals are constantly part of your day-to-day tasking or training. Particularly when some major exercise is in the future. Then, you set your short-term goals and then the long term. By the time you reach your long term goal, the soldiers are trained and you brief this to your higher chain-of-command.

  • My experience with goal setting has usually been thinking them out and not being in any order.What I have come to realize is that the goals I set become short-term because they are not planned out properly.S.M.A.R.T goals structures each goal with steps to take to help your goals become more reachable

  • I had no Idea how aimlessly I’ve been living, and I considered myself rather successful. But this is one of those “Grand awakening” moments in a person’s life. I can’t wait to get started so that I can really experience the success I’ve only dreamed of

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