In my high school 10 years ago, and at least 10 years prior and to this day, the staff has been using the Power of Positive Students (POPS) program to motivate students to do better and stuff.

They made the claim that people who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them than those who just think about them. So they made us write down our goals every week.

I've been curious about where all this came from and it appears to be based on some 70's program so the question is.

Do people who write down their goals achieve them with any measurable success over those who merely think them?

  • There are two different claims possible here: does writing down goals improve your chances? and the more suspect (but frequently made) claim: does writing down your goals guarantee success?
    – matt_black
    Jan 27 '12 at 0:44
  • the book :59 seconds by noted skeptic Richard Wiseman covers this.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 28 '12 at 11:30

There is an interesting study from a Harvard MBA class suggesting that writing down clear goals does indeed increase the chance of success. A couple summarizing statistics:

The 13% of the class who had goals were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84 percent who had no goals at all.

Even more staggering – the three percent who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97 percent put together.

Apparently, there is also a similar Yale study that was a myth, but the above one cites actual statistics from Harvard.

Another experimental study (at the bottom of the page, the beginning discusses the Yale myth), suggests a fairly strong causality between writing down goals and achieving them. The professor in charge commented:

"My study provides empirical evidence for the effectiveness of three coaching tools: accountability, commitment, and writing down one’s goals."

  • It definitely encourages people to thing about and articulate their goals, which may be a beneficial activity in itself, but I have no hard and fast data.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jan 27 '12 at 0:04
  • 2
    This doesn't quite prove causality, only proves that people who are ambitious, have well defined goals. And that ambitious are on average more successful, which is hardly a surprise. However, doesn't prove at all that if average Joe Sixpack would write down his goals, he'd become ambitious and successful.
    – vartec
    Jan 27 '12 at 10:12
  • 1
    The question does not ask about causality only correlation.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 29 '12 at 0:31

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