Three Reasons S.M.A.R.T. Goals Aren’t So Clever!

Three Reasons S.M.A.R.T. Goals Aren’t So Clever!

Do You Set Goals?

Did you make a New Year resolution this year? How’s it going (or has it gone … )? According to the research institute Statistic Brain less than 10% of Americans who make New Year resolutions achieve them. More than 25% give up in the first week. A third don’t make it past two weeks and more than 50% have given up within 6 months.

Why Should You Set Goals?

Does your personal goal setting feel like that? And does that mean you give up on goals?
Here’s what Seth Godin had to say about goals on his blog in 2009.

“The thing about goals is that living without them is a lot more fun, in the short run.
It seems to me though, that the people who get things done, who lead, who grow and who make an impact … these people have goals.”

Why S.M.A.R.T. Goals aren’t so clever…

I’m with Seth all the way. If you want to be successful. If you want your life to have significance. If you want to exercise influence across your organisation. If all you seek is contentment, you need to set goals and work on them regularly.

But I am not a coach or a mentor who advocates setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Why not?

Well to start with, a quick scan of Google suggests at least 20+ different combinations of what S.M.A.R.T. stands for. That’s not a great start is it?

More than that, there are at least three ways that S.M.A.R.T. goals fail to help you set and achieve goals to bring you success.

  1. Despite what the S.M.A.R.T. goal zealots say, not all goals need to be S.M.A.R.T.
  2. Despite a staggering number of variations of what S.M.A.R.T. stands for, they all miss one vital ingredient.
  3. Making a goal S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t automatically lead into a robust planning process. Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Not all goals need to be S.M.A.R.T.

Your journey to success will involve two sorts of goals. One is the “end-goal”, or “destination goal”. This is the “dream”. And if you’re going to achieve great things then you need to dream big. If you’re going to dream big, it’s difficult to be Specific…Measurable…Achievable etc. In fact, trying to nail down the detail of S.M.A.R.T is likely to inhibit your ambition. And that will curb your motivation before you start – which is hardly helpful is it?

And don’t just take it from me. LeBron James is a great basketball player. Some say the greatest basketball player. Here’s his take on goals:

“… my only ultimate goal is to win an NBA championship. It’s all that matters. I dream about it all the time, how it would look, how it would feel.”

Now that’s not S.M.A.R.T. is it? Despite that (perhaps because of it …. ) LeBron James has won 3 NBA championships, and is considered among the greatest of basketball players ever.

So, dream about your end goals and don’t sweat about the detail on them. Which leads us to the second problem with S.M.A.R.T. goals.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals are missing a vital ingredient

The problem with a S.M.A.R.T. goal is that it doesn’t tap into your emotions. It doesn’t remind you Why it is that you want to do something.

Look back at the LeBron James quote. He dreamt about “it” (winning an NBA championship). How it would look. How it would feel.

To motivate us, our goals need to be powerful and compelling. To do that they have to connect with us emotionally, we need to explore Why something is important to us. And to go into this in depth.

If your goal is to get promoted, ask “Why”? Why is promotion important?

Is it the extra salary and benefits you’ll receive? Why are these important? What will you do with them? What will you buy? Who will you celebrate with, where?

Or is it the status and authority that you’ll achieve? In which case Why is that important? How will you act? How will you feel? How will people treat you?

Continue to imagine achieving that goal - as vividly as you can picture the moment you achieve your goal, and imagine:

  • What do I see?
  • What do I hear?
  • What do I feel?
  • What do I taste?
  • What do I smell?

It is in imagining success, in building a strong mental image of success, that you begin to make your goal or goals motivating. And as you start to explore Why a goal is important to you, as you begin to imagine in vivid detail what achieving that goal will be like for you - across all your senses, it is then that you begin a healthy planning process. Because the third issue with S.M.A.R.T. goals is that …

Making a goal S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t feed a robust planning process.

Let’s take a common goal – to lose weight - and feed it (excuse the pun) into the S.M.A.R.T. goal setting process. In virtually no time at all I can derive a goal that says: I will lose 5 pounds (2.3 kilos) in 12 weeks.

Now that’s specific, it’s measurable; it’s achievable (currently that’s well under 5% of my total weight at an average rate of less than half-a-pound a week); it’s “relevant” (I’ll be healthier and feel better) and it’s Time-Bound.

But, like millions of New Year resolutions that don’t last, despite being 100% S.M.A.R.T. this goal isn’t going to result in me losing an ounce.

It’s got some things going for it. It’s measurable, and there’s a time-scale on it. But it’s not motivational, and it doesn’t lead me into a strong planning process. Why not?

Because this S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t tap into my Why (the reason I want to lose weight as opposed to your why, or my wife’s why, or Seth Godin’s why for that matter….).

This S.M.A.R.T doesn’t automatically lead me to question what barriers and obstacles lie in my way. Issues like my working habits, my metabolism and my tendency to snack on biscuits and cakes. It doesn’t automatically cause me to think about what I’ll need to give up, to succeed at my goal. And rest assured, if you want to dream big, and set big goals, you will have to make sacrifices to achieve them.

Neither does S.M.A.R.T. automatically lead me to thinking about the things that are in my favour and which I can draw upon to achieve my goal. This is a helpful and necessary counter to the last point. Thinking about what we can draw comfort and strength from in search of achieving this goal. In this example, I might cite my legendary strong will-power and tenacity.

S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t lead me to reflect upon what knowledge, skills or expertise I could look to bring in to help me achieve my goal.

And because S.M.A.R.T. doesn’t do these things, it doesn’t result in a detailed, thought through action-plan. A plan that breaks a B-I-G goal into smaller goals and tasks, that you can commit to and review on a regular basis - (daily if necessary).

To achieve your goals – seek Goal M|A|ST|E|R|Y

So, there you have three reasons at least, why S.M.A.R.T. goals are not too clever. To be fair, a S.M.A.R.T. goal is better than no goal at all. But, although the S.M.A.R.T. goal technique has been around for eons, a client who works with me won’t be thinking S.M.A.R.T.

Instead they’ll be talking about M|A|S|T|E|R|Y of their goals.

Goal M|A|S|T|E|R|Y is an end-to-end system that begins with a serious, probing exploration of why a goal is important to you. Getting you to reflect and understand why you want to achieve something. Then thinking through how that goal sits alongside what you value; what you believe; what you hold dear.

Once you know your “why”, your commitment builds from the heart. The next stage is to work through a concise but robust planning process. Thinking about how you’ll achieve that goal. What barriers you’ll need to overcome. What resources you have and what extra skills or support you may need to call on.

And because this is a system, your goals and your plans are logged as you go ready for you to review on a regular basis.

I’ll be blogging more about Goal M|A|S|T|E|R|Y over the coming months. And on other aspects of personal development, career success and productivity.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, and you’re interested in reading more, then please follow me at Changesmith Coaching on Linkedin and Facebook.
Take a look at previous clients’ feedback or see the details of my bite-size coaching package Jump Start or my “main-course” coaching packages.
Or you can drop me an e-mail.

Until next time

Andy - Changesmith


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