Fun With Data & Goal-Setting

I’m working on a small project which involves personal data tracking, so I’ve been doing a bit of user research on people who set goals and track their progress towards them.


43Things is a popular and easy-to-use site for setting goals and recording your progress, and I’ve enjoyed using it in the past myself.  I figured they might have some useful information on what types of goals people are setting and tracking today as well as some predictors for success.

On their “Zeitgeist” page, 43Things aggregates some interesting lists from member data such as all-time most popular goals (“lose weight” is the top goal by far), new goals (“Become the next Frank Sinatra” was on there as I was writing this), popular goals today, and more.

I took the list of top 100 all-time goals and list of top 100 achieved goals and merged them to see where the overlaps are, where the gaps are, and if there is a correlation between popular goals set and popular goals achieved.  I found some interesting things.



If you regularly set personal or professional goals for yourself, it won’t surprise you to learn that the goals with the highest number of achievers are generally measurable. It’s probable that no one marked off having achieved “Get in shape” or “Be more confident” because they’re hard to quantify. “Lose weight” is a bad goal because unless you give yourself a bit more guidance, it is difficult to say when it’s accomplished.  “Lose ten pounds in three months by decreasing my soda and snacks intake and working out three times a week” is definitely more wordy, but it’s also more concrete and has a higher likelihood of success.

I won’t try to argue if the top achieved goal, “Fall in love”, is quantifiable, but most of the top achieved goals are, in fact, very measurable.



The next interesting thing is the gaps where lots of people are setting goals but no one seems to be achieving them. Some of these are, as above, not so measurable.  But others are more along the lines of “things I’d like to say I did, but I don’t have the time or the passion.”  There are quite a few language learning goals in this category, as well as things that require a large commitment of time such as running a marathon, traveling the world or writing a novel.


Have you ever written a to-do list, and then thrown an item or two on there that you’ve already finished? Just to make you have some feeling of accomplishment? I have, especially if the day’s task list looks endless. The last interesting category I noticed seemed to be these things. Things people did without realizing it was a goal they wanted to achieve. Graduating from school, getting a passport, donating blood, doing ten full push-ups all fall into this category.  They’re often not the types of goals people think they need to be strategic to achieve, but that’s not to say they’re any easier than the other goals.


I used a JavaScript charting library called Highcharts. Highcharts is incredibly simple to get up and running, and they have a larger variety of chart types than many other charting packages, including stacked bar charts which I wanted to use to show some of the gaps in certain goals. 43Things actually has an API you can use to pull this type of information dynamically, so it would be possible to create a dynamic version of these goal numbers quite easily to do something interesting like track increases or decreases of certain goals over the course of time or with respect to current events (e.g., there are probably more people with the goals of “Get out of debt” and “Pay off mortgage” today versus five years ago!).



The creators of, The Robot Co-op, featured my blog post on their  excellent blog about 43Things & the other projects they build.  You can read the post here:  Thanks for taking a look, Robot Co-op, and keep up the great work!



It was suggested that since Highcharts doesn’t work in some mobile browsers, I include an alternate form of viewing the data, so I’ve added the images below in case that helps.  Thanks for the great suggestion.


Most Popular Set And Achieved Goals


Top Goals Set But Not Achieved



  1. Thanks for the comment, Dominykas. I updated the post to include images of the charts as well, hope that lets you see the content better. Thanks for reading.

  2. Thanks for this — really interesting to see the analysis, as well as hear how you did it. And of course, hear your wisdom on goalsetting, Martha. :)

  3. Ha, thanks Jodi :) Glad you enjoyed it, it was really fun to look at the data and find the interesting observations. Will be helpful for the other project as well, but considering playing with their API to see if I can connect frequency of updates to success rates or something useful like that.

  4. Fantastic post!

    I can’t believe 30,000 people want to write a book and another 10,000 want to write a novel. Think of all the untapped potential! The empty library shelves!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Emily. I know, we should all send them email to encourage them to get going! And to the Frank Sinatra guy (or gal) too!

  5. There is a popular novel writing goal on 43 Things that is often achieved. The wording changes annually and amongst goal setters but it is in effect one goal and that is win NaNoWriMo.

    This stands for National Novel Writing Month and that is November each year. To win one must complete a 50000 word novel within the month.

    If all the NaNoWriMo goals were combined into one for charting purposes it is likely that goal would be amongst the achieved rather than not achieved goals.

  6. It is interesting to see that write a book is te least achieved goal. Do people set up subgoals to assist them with these tasks? For instance, you write there are goals we complete but do view as goals, such as graduating from school or college. These goals are long commitment and complex to achieve. The reasons why we achieve them are structural. Firstly, society creates a structure where people are required to complete these goals: there are external expectations and supports. Secondly, school and college students are bonded into cohort groups, and the closer these cohorts, and more driven and talented a cohort, the more likely the cohort is to succeed. Finally, these achievements are broken down into small, achievable subgoals, such as complete grade 5, and from that, complete algebra 1, and even more refined than that, complete algebra quiz on Tuesday. Do you think that the real problem with large goals is that people do not create the structures necessary to complete them? Ta :D

  7. Are you able to get member data? I’d love to see stats on how many goals people have on their lists, how many they have accomplished, how many they have given up on, and who has the most of these categories!

    By the way, I’ve been a 43things member for about 6 years.

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