(NaturalNews) Gurus of print, web and stage preach the magic of goal setting. To really harness the true power of intention, you've got to commit specific goals to paper, they insist. The magic happens when you write goals down! This is no laughing matter. It's solid gold personal development doctrine proven by a committed team of Yale researchers.
The visionary Ivy League graduating class of 1953, as the story goes, discovered that only a small percentage of its members set goals for the future, and just 3% of graduates committed those goals to paper. Follow up studies, conducted over subsequent decades, showed that the three percent earned more income than the other 97% combined!
Just one problem: This story is made up. After receiving so many inquiries from people who learned of the study from personal growth gurus, Yale finally came out and confirmed that no such study ever took place. See the Yale statement here:
Yes, if you like being manipulated by people who care more about selling books and seminars than promoting the truth. As much as we love to put people on pedestals, they love to be there. There is no shortage of those who love the spotlight and will gladly gloss over the truth in order to look good and sell stuff. This is how the goal setting research myth began, we can safely assume.
Worse, the myth is presented as magical. Not only is there supposedly something inherent in goal setting that gives you unparalleled advantage, but something truly magical about writing them down. To learn these amazing secrets of how to set goals that will put YOU in the upper 3%-who-earns-more-than-the-97%-combined, just buy a guru book or attend a seminar to make sure you are putting the magical formula to work in the correct way.
If manipulation is harmless, then pimping this urban legend is also harmless. If enticing people to believe in magic formulas is harmless, then the way this myth has spread is also harmless.
Is writing down goals part of some enlightened formula of super achievers?
No. In fact, there is compelling evidence that goal setting in general is not all it is cracked up to be. Goal setting, especially setting "stretch goals" that push you far out of your comfort zone, have even been shown to encourage unethical behavior such as manipulation and lying and taking advantage others. Goal setting can also narrow your focus, so you miss out on better opportunities along the way. Moreover, only 10% of people report achieving set goals!
Research suggests that the godfather of goals, the New Year's resolution, enjoys an 8% success rate. No magic here. Goal setting statistics sound less like effective formulas for overcoming human nature and more like human nature running its course!
Yet, the personal development culture seems addicted to goal setting. As children we sent letters to Santa in hopes of getting that new, dream toy. As adults we write down our goals and intentions and chant them as affirmations, hoping the Universe will respond to our desire with a reward.
Rethink goal setting and discover what works for you.
If we clean the slate and don't assume goal setting is the most effective way to move ahead in life, other interesting options open up.
Living without goals. Several thoughtful leaders in the field of personal growth promote a lifestyle that focuses on enjoying the here and now and going with the flow, as opposed to chasing goals. Among these is minimalist Leo Babauta, with perhaps the most read modern Zen blog in the world. Listen to Leo talk about living with simplicity and focus in the March 21, 2012 episode of Mental Health Exposed, a Natural News Radio program.
Focus on needs, not goals. Perhaps nothing clarifies like focusing on developmental needs. At every stage of life, we have particular developmental needs. In order to grow, we must meet those needs. This isn't negotiable. To establish greater mobility and independence, a toddler needs to learn to walk. To understand how romantic relationships work, teens need to begin to experiment with them. There is no way around learning from experience over time.
There is simply no substitute for life experience. A 12-year-old cannot know, understand and do what a 50-year-old can. Developmental psychologists have created simple, broad theories about needs at each stage of development, including adult stages.
I find this to be uncommonly useful in my private coaching practice. When personal goals and desires go against what is likely to happen from a developmental perspective, those goals should be modified to fit the current, underlying need. A cursory overview of adult psychological development can be found here.
Develop direction. Combined with developmental needs, setting directions in life is my preferred method of keeping personal development on track. Setting directions is a broader, more flexible, more realistic way of exercising choice about the future. A direction may lay the foundation for years of productive and flexible effort.
Direction says head north. A more specific goal says take the fastest route to Bismarck. What if the fastest route is closed? Or ugly? Or dangerous? What if Bismarck sucks when you get there? What if there were 100 better places along the way, or beyond?
Establishing a direction is different than locking yourself into a narrow, specific outcome. Direction takes place over the long haul and continually fuels the desire to get to new and better places. Examples of direction: becoming a generous person, developing greater capacity for love in your life, creating abundant physical health, or simply growing mentally and emotionally.
Direction is clear, but broad. The details are for the journey. The outcome is ever increasing opportunity to discover how to continue in your chosen direction. The process is focused, but open to peripheral opportunity and course correction. Best of all, direction can work in tandem with an awareness of your life stage.
Set specific goals. Specific goals are useful tools in the context of a worthwhile direction that is based upon your deeper needs. Write them down if it helps, of course, and use them for short-term focus.
These are some of the ingredients to create a conscious and deliberate path in life. Here's to your journey...
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