Can’t Believe Everything You Read: 1953 Yale Goal Study

by The Happy Rock on November 13, 2007

“Scientists surveyed the Yale class of 1953, and found that 3 percent had written down financial goals for their futures at their college graduation. When the group reconvened in 1973, this 3 percent of the class that had started their careers with some kind of plan controlled more combined net worth than the other 97 percent combined.” – Ririan Project : The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Moneymakers

yale-1910-wiffenpoofs.jpgAfter I read that, I started scribbling down my goals! Just kidding, but that is some inspiring evidence for writing down your financial goals. Such good evidence that I wanted to take a look at the study to get a better picture of what was going on. I went on a search.

What I found was that Zig Ziglar and Tony Robbins quoted the same study in their writing, but I couldn’t find any information on the real 1953 Yale study. It turns out that the story is urban legend, passed from one self help guru to another. Here is an article at Fast Company that does a great job trying to find the real study and wading through the folk lore.

Ok, now that was disappointing. It doesn’t mean the Yale story hasn’t helped many people over the years, but it really takes some credibility away from the story and some of the famous self-help gurus who quoted it. In the age of the internet it is pretty easy to find answers, but it is also easy to get duped. Now go out and right down some financial goals! I will bring some hard evidence on the affects of goal setting in a future post.

As a side note, I also found that the subliminal advertising message scare was based on another urban legend that sited a movie theater that generated increased profits from telling people to “Eat Popcorn, Drink Coke”.

Source: If Your Goal Is Success, Don’t Consult These Gurus
Source: Self-Help Snake Oil and Self-Improvement Urban Legends
Snopes – Subliminal Advertising

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim Diehl November 14, 2007 at 12:32 am

I knew it! Ha! No more goal setting for me!!! Let’s hear it for blind optimism about the future!


Shadox November 15, 2007 at 3:12 am

ha! I love urban legends. I find that it’s all about the confidence with which your chosen guru utters his words of wisdom. No so much about the actual content, or truth for that matter.

I think that’s what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”.


Pinyo November 18, 2007 at 6:51 pm

Hey, as long as it works. People likes to hear powerful stories, and if there isn’t one readily available, making one up is just as good.


The Happy Rock November 19, 2007 at 2:49 pm

@Shadox and Pinyo – I agree to a point that often the story or the speaker is the motivating factor and that the actual truth doesn’t play a big part.

But as a consumer of information, I want to know when stories are fake. Someone isn’t allowed to sell me something by using false advertising. Why, because it is misleading. If someone says writing goals will produce “X”, look at this example “Y”. If “Y”isn’t true, I want to know before I invest energy in writing goals if it really isn’t proven to make a difference.


Patrick November 19, 2007 at 8:44 pm

I agree with your point of view – I would rather have the truth.

Some people tell parables as though they are truth, when most people know they are not. There are a lot of good parables out there that drive home a good valuable lesson, but if someone is going to sell me something – I prefer it to be the truth!


Adam March 7, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Awesome! I don’t know how many times I’ve seen that “report” quoted. I have to admit though, if I do write down my goals and put them somewhere that I am reminded of them often I usually have a higher success rate. I feel more committed.


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