SEL Skills Articles

Writing vs Thinking About Your Goals… Which Makes You More Successful?

You can guarantee that your students will become more successful than ever before, with a 10-minute activity…


There is a significant increase in accomplishments when people write out their goals.

Make goals and put them in writing. Yes, the old fashioned way. Get out a pen and a piece of paper and have your students get all their dreams out. They can be short-term or long-term. They can be small or outrageous. Either way, it will make the world of difference for your students.

You may have heard of a famous “study” on goal setting done on Harvard MBA students. The “study” claimed that the 3% of students with written down goals had been 10 times more successful (measured by income) than 97% of their peers who had not written them down.

That claim is a bit outrageous is obviously an urban myth. However, the story did encourage researchers to do their own studies on the topic…

A Dominican University PH.D., Gail Matthews, conducted a study on 159 professionals. The participants were male and female. They ranged in age from 23 to 72 years old. They came from countries across the world. And had a variety of jobs such as entrepreneurs, educators, healthcare professionals, artists, bankers, vice presidents and non-profit directors.

The participants were split up into 5 groups and each assigned a different task. Every group also had to rate the goal based on difficulty, importance, the extent to which they had the skills and resources to accomplish the goal, their commitment and motivation to the goal, whether or not they had pursued this goal and if so their prior success.

The group tasks were assigned as follows:

  • Group 1: thought about their goals (to accomplish the next 4 weeks) and rated the goals.
  • Group 2: wrote their goals out and rated the goals.
  • Group 3: wrote their goals out, formulated action commitments and rated the goals.
  • Group 4: wrote their goals out, formulated action commitments, sent their goals and action commitments to a friend, and rated the goals.
  • Group 5: wrote their goals out, formulated action commitments, sent their goals and action commitments and a weekly progress report to a friend, and rated the goals.

At the end of 4 weeks participants were asked to rate their progress and the degree to which they accomplished their goals. The results are illustrated in the chart at the top of this page.

The mean achievement for Groups 2-5 was significantly higher than Group 1. Translation: writing down their goals made a tremendous difference!

If this study found that much success in just 4 weeks, imagine what written goals can do for a full semester? Full school year? A lifetime?

You can be the one to show them how to set goals! You can be the one with whom they celebrate their success!

SOAR SEL Skills can help! We have mastered the method of goal setting and tracking; our curriculum is built upon these skills.

To get more information about the SOAR® Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum, sign up for our “How Do I Feel?” Curriculum Kit in the blue box on the right of this page. –>

To our students’ success,

Brian Winter, M.Ed.


*(Source: Summary of Recent Goals Research, by Gail Matthews, Ph.D., Dominican University)

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