Setting goals is an essential aspect of achieving success. Goals provide a clear direction and purpose for our actions, allowing us to focus our efforts and motivation toward achieving a specific outcome. There is a wealth of scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of goal setting in improving performance and achieving success.

One of the most well-known studies on the effectiveness of goal setting was conducted by Dr. Edwin Locke and Dr. Gary Latham in 1968. The study found that goal setting significantly improved performance in a range of tasks, including increasing productivity in industrial settings, improving academic performance, and enhancing athletic performance. The researchers found that specific and challenging goals were the most effective in motivating individuals to achieve success.

Another study conducted by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson and Dr. Carol Dweck found that individuals who set specific goals and developed a growth mindset were more likely to succeed than those who had a fixed mindset. A growth mindset involves believing that abilities and intelligence can be developed through hard work and dedication, while a fixed mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence are fixed traits that cannot be changed. The researchers found that individuals who set specific goals and had a growth mindset were more motivated and persistent in achieving their goals.

Research also suggests that setting goals can help individuals overcome obstacles and setbacks. A study conducted by Dr. Gabriele Oettingen and her colleagues found that individuals who set specific and challenging goals were more likely to persist in the face of obstacles and setbacks than those who had vague or easy goals. The researchers found that individuals who used mental contrasting, a technique that involves visualizing both the desired outcome and the obstacles that may arise, were more successful in achieving their goals.

Furthermore, goal setting has been found to be effective in promoting positive behavior change. A study conducted by Dr. Lawrence Appel and his colleagues found that individuals who set specific goals for dietary and lifestyle changes were more successful in achieving those changes than those who did not set goals. The researchers found that goal setting increased self-efficacy and motivation, leading to greater success in achieving positive behavior change.

But setting a goal doesn’t necessarily guarantee its success as indicated by a landmark study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.  According to this study, approximately 54% of people who resolve to change their ways fail to make the transformation last beyond six months, and the average person makes the same life resolution 10 times over without success.[i]  So what is it that makes the difference in creating long-term change?

The problem comes back to the two main challenges we mentioned earlier – lack of action and not knowing what you want, which in this case starts with writing down your goals, taking action, and getting accountability.  This was clearly demonstrated in a groundbreaking study on goals conducted by psychologist Gail Matthews, which revealed some striking discoveries. 

In this study, 267 subjects from different backgrounds were broken into five groups and asked to do various goal-setting activities with three key actions: writing goals, committing to goal-directed actions, and creating accountability for those actions.

In the end, group five, which was the only group that completed all of the steps, reached the highest success rate (identified as either having accomplished their goals or getting at least halfway there).

Specifically, results grew from a 43% success rate in group one and escalated to 76% for those in group five.

What’s interesting about this study is that by adding an additional layer of participation participants increased the likelihood of successfully achieving their goal. 

For example, writing down a goal created 33% more success than simply thinking about it, and writing down the process by which the goal will be achieved was more powerful than just writing it down. 

But even more striking was that writing a weekly progress report and sending it to an accountability partner as opposed to just telling them about it once increased the success rate of participants significantly. [ii] 

After the study, Matthews summarized her findings by stating:

“My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals… It’s that final step of reporting their progress that gave group 5 the boost they needed to get things done.

In my experience, merely informing a friend or peer of your intentions isn’t useful in terms of creating accountability. It may work for a week or two but interest tends to fizzle. Hire a great coach instead.” 

But even the act of setting smart, achievable goals and getting coaching won’t guarantee their fulfillment since the #1 reason most people fail at doing this is due to self-sabotaging beliefs that prevent you from following through and taking action. Now you must check all three boxes:

  1. Set Smart Goals
  2. Get Coaching & Accountability
  3. Reprogram Self-Sabotaging Beliefs

Handling all three of these challenges is what separates those who make their goals come alive and those that flounder or give up. If you really want to succeed I recommend checking out The Winner’s Mindset Training Program HERE.



References: Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational behavior and human performance, 3(2), 157-189.

Halvorson, H. G., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Mindsets and achievement. Social and personality psychology compass, 1(1), 13-26.

Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., Sevincer, G. M., Stephens, E. J., Pak, H. J., & Hagenah, M. (2009). Mental contrasting and goal commitment: The mediating role of energization. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(5), 608-622.

Appel, L. J., Clark, J. M., Yeh, H. C., Wang, N. Y., Coughlin, J. W., Daumit, G., … & Geller, S. (2011). Comparative effectiveness of weight-loss interventions in clinical practice. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(21), 1959-1968.

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