Study on Goal Setting Activity

by ryan on January 14, 2018


Study on Goal Setting Activity


Many motivational and self-help speakers, ranging from Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy, etc., have quoted the Yale University study. Tony Robbins even mentions it in his book, “Unlimited Power”. In addition, there are countless websites on goal setting activity quoting the Yale study on goal setting activity.

It’s a great, convincing story and says everything there is to say about the power of goal setting activities! In short, it’s a fantastic example of how goal setting activities can really improve the quality of your life except for one thing.

It never happened.

The Yale study on goal setting activity is a typical example of an urban legend. I have to admit I was taken in too, at first. It wasn’t until a friend of mine pointed it out that I realized that the Yale goal setting study never really occurred.

After I found out that the goal setting activity study was an urban legend, I did some additional research to find out the facts and what really happened.

The guys from the Consultant Debunking Unit (CDU) at Fast Company magazine were the first ones who uncovered that the study never actually took place.



First, they checked out Jay Rifenbary’s 1995 book, “No Excuse!”, where he first mentioned the Yale University study. At first, Rifenbary couldn’t place where he first came across the story. However, his researchers confirmed that they’ve heard it numerous times in self-help and motivational talks and seminars.

Then they went to see Tony Robbins, as he quoted the Yale study in his best-seller, “Unlimited Power” (see page 200). When the CDU contacted the Robbins Research International (RRI), they too couldn’t find any documentation for the same study either.

The RRI suggested that the CDU contact personal effectiveness coach, Brian Tracy, who then referred the CDU to Zig Ziglar, the motivational guru. When contacted, Zig Ziglar couldn’t find any reference for the Yale goal setting activity study and suggested that the CDU contact Tony Robbins instead!

After all that, the CDU searched for surviving members of the 1953 graduating class of Yale (remember, it was over 50 years ago!). None of them could remember any such study at all. Beverly Waters, Research Associate from Yale University undertook an exhaustive search of Yale alumni archives and found no trace of such a study. Waters says, “We are quite confident that the study did not take place. We suspect it is a myth.”

Don’t Believe Everything You Read or Hear!

So there you have it.

An example of an Urban Legend on goal setting activity that never occurred at all. Other later versions of this same story say it happened at Harvard University instead.

So, the moral of the story?

Not that goal setting doesn’t work. It does. There are lots of other studies proving that goal setting does work.

Just remember that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear or read!

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