If you have ever heard or read anything about motivation and goal setting, you’ve probably come across the 1979 Harvard study (or was it a 1953 Yale study?) You know, the one where the graduating class was asked whether or not they had written goals, and the ones who did (only 3%) had achieved more success (i.e. money) than the other 97% combined. It makes a great story and a powerful reason to set goals. Pundits like Brian Tracy, Tony Robbins, even Zig Ziglar have used it repeatedly. The problem is that neither of the studies cited actually took place. They are fake. Sham.
At least, that’s the best that I can determine. I could be wrong.
The tale seems to have begun, or at least have received a big boost, from a 1986 book by the late Mark H. McCormack: What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive. Fast Company ran an article on the subject, in 1996. They began by speaking with Jay Rifenbary, who had cited the Yale study in his 1995 book, No Excuse! Incorporating Core Values, Accountability, and Balance into Your Life and Career. Jay’s staff couldn’t document the reference, but pointed to the numerous motivational consultants who refer to it. So the Fast Company researchers sought the council of Tony Robbins. Here’s a blip from that article:
The CDU turned next to the reigning guru of personal achievement, chisel-jawed infomercial king Anthony Robbins. There, on page 200 of the 34th printing of his best-seller, Unlimited Power, Robbins writes, “The difference in people’s abilities to fully tap their personal resources is directly affected by their goals. A study of the 1953 graduates of Yale University … ”
To find Robbins’s source, the CDU contacted Robbins Research International (RRI) in La Jolla, California — only to learn that the files concerning Unlimited Power had “met a disastrous end.” RRI referred the CDU to personal effectiveness consultant Brian Tracy, who directed the CDU to the dean of motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar.
Sure enough, in the middle of his best-selling video, Goals, Setting and Achieving Them on Schedule, the evangelical Ziglar drops to his knees and cites — you guessed it — the study of the Class of 1953. “Those 3%,” preaches Ziglar, “accomplished more than the 97% combined who had not set those goals.”
But where had Ziglar found the study? It would be hard to pin down, explained a spokesperson from Ziglar’s Dallas headquarters: “Mr. Ziglar is always reading. He reads more than two hours a day!” One possible source — “Try Tony Robbins.”
Now, look, don’t get me wrong. I don’t share the magazine’s derision of Robbins, Tracy, and Ziglar–I admire those guys, every one of them–but, you must admit; it’s a funny story. Here’s why I tell it. Here’s an important thing to remember: Don’t believe everything you hear or read–even if the source is someone you have trusted for years. They could be wrong. They could be repeating something they believe, but is absolutely untrue. Check the source, and if there is no credible source to be found; beware.
What really amazes me is how two people can witness the same event and come away with two different stories. Has that ever happened to you? What causes that? The first time it happened to me, I just figured that the other person was deluded. The more I’ve reflected on the phenomenon, though, the more I think it is this: We believe what we want to believe. In a major way, we create our own reality–and God help anyone who tries to convince us otherwise.
The bottom line for Turnaround Theory is this (straight from Brian Tracy’s book, Goals! How to Get Everything You Want–Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible🙂
You become what you think about most of the time… successful people think and talk about what they want, most of the time. Unsuccessful people think and talk about what they don’t want, most of the time.