Ah, the SMART Goals acronym—the famous goal setting system for crafting wildly successful goals that propel your life into the stratosphere.
Or, perhaps the SMART Goals acronym is just the supposedly awesome goal-setting system that you’ve tried over and over without any success at all.
I don’t know; maybe you’re somewhere in between—not at the end of the spectrum that cheers for SMART Goals from the rooftops, but not at the other end where you fill out your SMART Goals worksheet with disdain either.
Me, I can’t stand SMART Goals. Nope, not at all. In fact, I think they’re contributing to failed goals all around the world. But you knew that already, right? The title of this post says it all!
But I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, is this guy for real?”
Yes, I’ve written a book on goal setting, and I’ve been blogging about goal setting for several years now, but if you search my site, you won’t find a single mention of SMART Goals anywhere.
(Okay, I had to search my self, just in case, and I found one post, but I bash SMART Goals there, too.)
So, if I’m about goal setting, why am I so against the SMART Goals acronym? It’s easy, and I’ll give you one, unbelievably compelling reason: SMART Goals lack human emotion.
The SMART Goals Acronym Lacks Emotion
As human beings, we’re incredibly emotional. Our emotions can cause us to fall in love in a moment’s notice, buy things we don’t need at the drop of a hat, help a total stranger in need, or even quit a job in a ball of fire on a bad day—the list goes on and on.
Think about something, either immensely positive or dreadfully negative, that you’ve done simply because of an emotional reaction you had.
C’mon. Take a teensy second to think back.
Okay, I’ll go first.
A few years ago, I bought a motorcycle because I thought it was cool. I imagined that a bike would give me some kind of feeling or freedom. I honestly don’t remember anymore. That’s the thing with feelings; they’re not always deeply meaningful or memorable, but they are powerful.
So, I assured myself it was an economical decision. “I’ll save a ton of gas,” I told myself and my wife. I sold my car and assured her that I’d ride the motorcycle year-round (in Missouri, I might add), and I went into debt for this economically-sound decision.
I convinced myself I was being logical, but I wasn’t, and I sold the bike at a loss about a year and a half later. Winters in Missouri on a motorcycle were a bit too miserable to handle, and “toughing it out” just wasn’t working for me.
No, I didn’t buy the motorcycle because of the SMART Goals acronym, but I think I’ve made my point that, as humans, we can do some pretty stupid things because of emotion.
However, our emotions can lead us to do some pretty awesome things too.I started Daily New Years and wrote Crush Your Goals! because of a deep, powerful motivation to help people set goals that truly matter to their lives. In 2017, I heard so many people saying things like, “I’m going to [insert goals here] next year.” “It’s going to be my resolution,” they’d say.
Honestly, it hurt to think about all of these people postponing their lives and their dreams for some arbitrary date in the future, and I knew I could help. That emotion was powerful, and it sparked a flame inside of me that burns today, hotter now than ever before.
I say all of that to say this: the SMART Goals acronym does not help you set goals that connect to your emotions, motivations, or even your dreams. They only succeed in helping you set goals that are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
But what if your goals punch all five of those boxes, but they don’t contribute to a brighter future, or get you excited to jump out of bed, or provide significance to your life?
What if the SMART Goals acronym helps you set a bunch of goals that you don’t really care about—like, not even one iota?
That would be a pretty crappy way to go about setting goals, right? You might be sprinting as fast as you can go but in the wrong direction.
Trust me, I tried it that way for years, and years, and years. I kept setting goals that I couldn’t stick to, or couldn’t come close to achieving.
Why aren’t I more motivated?”
“Why aren’t I better at this?”
“This shouldn’t be that hard! Why can’t I do it?”
If you don’t mind me saying so, I bet you’ve probably been there too. It sucks.
But I genuinely believe that this problem continues to pop up in our lives because we’re setting goals that we don’t feel emotionally connected to—goals that don’t fuel the fire we have burning deep inside of us.
So, without further ado, I want to show you exactly why the SMART Goals acronym is causing you to fail using seven points.
SMART Goals are Not Future-Focused
The first thing I want you to think about is this: why do we even set goals?
Most people have some kind of goal or collection of goals, even if you don’t think you do. My wife and I love to argue this point because she’s not one to sit down and write out or set any goals for herself.
However, she does have a dream for our future, she has a vision for how she wants to renovate our home, she has a plan for her future career, and she wants to have a 12-month emergency fund built up—just to name a few.
So, no matter what you call them (visions, hopes, plans, dreams, etc.), my wife has goals, and chances are, so do you.
But why? Why do we have goals?
We all have dreams, goals, or ambitions because we envision a better future for ourselves. Sure, you may love life and appreciate everything you have right this very moment, but I’d bet you also have something you want to build towards in your future.
And that’s why we set goals: to contribute and build towards a better future. So, why doesn’t the SMART Goals acronym include anything that would help you reflect deeply on your future?
What do you want your life to look like? What do you hope to achieve? Do you want to travel the world? Awesome! Set goals that build towards that.
Do you want to start your own international non-profit organization? That’s outstanding! Start small and set some goals that will help you get a little bit closer every day.
The best goals you can have are ones that contribute to a bright, better future. That’s why I believe goals need to be future-focused.
Hey SMART Goals, Where’s the Optimism?
After being future-focused, I believe remarkable goals should be ones that you’re optimistic about pursuing AND that you’re optimistic about achieving.
If you sit down with your SMART Goals worksheet and chart out a handful of goals that measure up to the model, but you’re not optimistic about any of them, then what have you really accomplished?
Goals may have their ups and downs, their good days and bad, but overall, they should give you an overwhelming sense of joy. You should wake up every day and feel happy about your goals and your ability to achieve them.
If your list of goals doesn’t make you happy, or you flat out dread working towards them, then I’d say that’s a major red flag. If that’s your current situation, throw the SMART Goals acronym out the window, and start setting goals that fill you with optimism.
Goals Should be Challenging, not Just Attainable.
Okay, this is a slightly tricky point to argue. The SMART Goals model calls for your goals to be attainable, and I know why: there are people who think you should be setting goals that you know you can achieve. The argument is that, if you set your goals too high, you might fail and lose motivation.
That’s a valid point. However, if you know on day one that you can achieve every goal you have, then I would argue that you’re not setting them high enough. Goals that are 100% achievable are boring, and they don’t stretch us or allow us to grow in any way.
It’s been quoted time and time again, “Growth happens outside of our comfort zones.”
It’s also been shown that people are at their happiest when they’re solving problems, learning, and growing. So, why then would we wake up every day to work hard on goals we know we can achieve?
We wouldn’t—It’s uninspiring and dull. Hit the snooze and go back to bed. Those boring goals will be there tomorrow.
That’s why our goals need to be challenging. They need to be realistic, sure, but they need to be challenging nonetheless. It’s the sense of accomplishment that keeps up charging forward.
How Many of Your Smart Goals were Unforgettable?
How many SMART Goals have you set, that if it weren’t for writing them down somewhere, you’d have forgotten about them altogether?
Okay, maybe you don’t write your goals down. The question still stands: how many past goals do you think you’ve forgotten? I’ve talked to people in March and April who had completely forgotten what their New Year’s resolutions were just months before.
Good goals shouldn’t be forgettable!
Okay, now, do you have something deep inside of you that you can’t seem to get out of your mind, even if you try? Maybe you’ve always wanted to write a book, or learn a new skill, or go to the Eiffel Tower.
Do you have something like that?
Maybe it’s a goal you’ve set in the past, and you didn’t see it through. Or maybe, you never set that goal because of some fear you have surrounding your dreams. Perhaps you resist because of some self-limiting beliefs you battle with.
Either way, if you can’t get it out of your head, then it’s a goal that is unforgettable, and it’s one that truly, deeply matters to you. And it’s most likely a goal you should be pursuing with every fiber of your being, whether it measures up against the SMART Goals acronym or not.
So, if you’ve been setting forgettable goals, try digging deep and finding some new goals that set your soul and your passion on fire. Those are the goals that are unforgettable, and if you chase those, I practically guarantee your success.
Are Your Goals Significant, or Are They Just Specific?
SMART Goals are supposed to be specific, measurable, and relevant, but can a goal be a good goal despite those things? Absolutely!
Let’s say you wanted to deepen your relationship with your kids, or your parents, or your spouse. Is that specific? How could it be, there’s no way to measure our relationships. There’s no metric we can use to determine specificity.
SMART Goals fail again because they don’t help us to set goals that are significant to our lives. Goals that are significant to our lives are goals that are deeply important to us and will have a significant impact on our lives.
Last year I wrote a book. It was a ton of work, and it took a full year to achieve. I even had to put this blog and my podcast on hold to make the time, but writing that book was one of the most significant things I’ve ever done to date. And, it’s going to have a significant impact on my life and hopefully the lives of millions of others.
So, even despite ups and downs, setbacks, and obstacles, I found a way to crush that goal. It was extremely significant to me. So, I have to ask: what is significant to you? What goals can you set to fulfill that significance?
Can SMART Goals be significant? Sure!
But are we leading with significance when we use the acronym to grade our goals? No, but we should be because we’d be far more successful and fulfilled in the process. When you think about setting new goals for yourself, lead with significance.
Are Your Goals Draining You or Are They Energizing You?
Another critical way that SMART Goals cause us to fail is in the area of energy. I believe that goals can either drain you or fulfill you. Often, we accidentally set SMART Goals that drain us.
This concept might seem counter-intuitive, possibly even ridiculous, but good goals should give you enormous amounts of energy.
I wake up every morning at 4 a.m., ready to charge forward with my goals. I jump out of bed (most of the time), and I head into my home office to work on blog posts, podcasts, books, courses, webinars—you name it. Then, at 7:00, I head off to the gym, and later on to work for my full-time job.
I don’t share all of this to brag—I share it to illustrate a point. Many people tell me my schedule is too much; that I need to dial it back. They can’t imagine how I have the energy.
And here’s the trick: My goals give me energy; they don’t drain me.
Sure, I’m human. I need sleep and rest, but I’m able to squeeze more out of my day because I’m excited and intrinsically motivated to work towards my goals.
When you rely on the SMART Goals acronym to set your goals, and you don’t account for energy, significance, optimism, and so forth, then you run the risk of setting goals that deplete your energy. Or worse, you set goals you dread to think about.
When that happens, no matter what you do or how much rest you get, your goals are going to drain your batteries. But when you focus on setting goals that feed your energy, fuel your fire, and put wind in your sails, then you’ll actually feel more energetic after performing at a higher rate.
Seems backward, right? More work equals more energy? Give it a shot. I know you’ll find this to be true.
Time-Bound vs. Deadline-Driven
Okay, so this one is a little difficult to articulate, but I’ll give it a try. SMART Goals dictate that your goals should be Time-Bound.
But let’s go back to the example I used earlier. Imagine that you want to deepen your relationship with your spouse or kids. We’ve already talked about it not being specific or measurable, but it’s also not something you would want to put a time box on. Right?
But you could also argue that it shouldn’t be deadline-driven.
But here’s the difference between deadline-driven and time-bound: deadlines themselves are goals that can be moved and adjusted. Time-bound is a fixed period of time—a boundary that is not to be crossed.
Okay, you could say that I’m getting too fixated on the semantics or definitions. I’ll cede that point.
But I’ll also ask you this: how often have you set a goal using the SMART Goals acronym and found yourself either with a goal that was not time-bound or with a goal that did have a time-box that ended up frustrating you?
I’d bet on a large number of times.
Sometimes we set goals, and we underestimate the time it can take. Other times, life gets in the way, and things come up. When we put pressure on ourselves to perform within a fixed window of time, we set ourselves up for added stress and anxiety that will only limit our ability to feel successful.
Deadlines, however, are goals themselves. Aiming to complete a goal or a milestone by a specific date puts a healthy amount of pressure on us to perform. But, and this is a huge “but,” if we miss the deadline, we can move it. Say what?
When I was writing my book last year, I bet I moved the deadline seven or eight times. I wasn’t procrastinating or postponing my book—I just didn’t realize how much went into it.
At first, I put myself in a 90-day time box, and as soon as I went one day over that boundary, I started counting the days.
“Uhg! This was only supposed to take 90 days. Why aren’t I done yet?”
But then I realized that deadlines can be motivators—something to aim at, but they shouldn’t be immoveable or cause you to feel like a failure. After that, I started to look at the successes.
“Hey, I wanted to have my rough draft done by today, and it’s not done, but I did manage to get fourteen out of sixteen chapters done.” Then, I would set a new deadline for those last two chapters and feel great about what I had accomplished.
Time boxes can work too, but I find them to be far more stressful and unforgiving.
SO, semantics or not, try ditching your time boundaries and set optimistic, but flexible, deadlines instead. Or, if your goal doesn’t need a deadline, throw it out the window altogether and go at your own pace. Who cares? Goal setting should be fun, right?
Why add pressure if you don’t need too.
Conclusion: Ditch the SMART Goals
The SMART Goals acronym was designed to be a pass/fail system to measure our goals, ensuring that, if we follow the five steps, that we’ll achieve success.
But that’s not always true. Sure, SMART Goals have worked for people in the past. But I would argue that, if you’ve seen success with SMART Goals, it’s because you were meeting other metrics you didn’t even know about.
Maybe you set a SMART that you were also energized by, that you were optimistic about, that was super significant to you, that was future-focused? Maybe, just maybe, it had nothing to do with the SMART Goals acronym at all?
If you look closely at the seven arguments above, you’ll see a new framework for setting goals: The FOCUSED Framework.
And I know what you’re thinking (again): “Great! Another longer, harder-to-memorize acronym.”
You might see it that way, at least at first, but I promise you, if you start evaluating your goals based on the framework above, you’re going to see your success and happiness soar.
The SMART Goals model has been around for years, but trust me, doing something just because we’ve always done it that way is rarely a good reason to keep doing something. SMART Goals just don’t work well.
And if you don’t believe me, take it from Michael Hyatt.
He modified the SMART Goals acronym and extended it to add a few key metrics, too: Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Risky, Time-Keyed, Exciting, and Relevant. That’s his new and improved SMARTER Goals model.
See how he changed it? He added Exciting and Risky because he also recognized the lack of challenge and emotion in the classic model.
So, what do you say? Give the FOCUSED Framework a shot and see how it goes? And then, let me know in the comments below:
- Did the FOCUSED Framework work better for you? Is it brilliant?
- Was it a bust? Am I a crackpot who’s trashing a perfectly good system for setting goals?
Let me know! I want to hear what you’re thinking. And until next time, take care!
Now, go Crush Your Goals!
Well done! Improving relationships are very difficult goals to fit into a SMART goal. Telling my wife that I love her 3 times a day is good, but there is so much more that needs to go along with those words to deepen and add greater joy to our relationship. Your FOCUSED goals make me want to examine my life and my relationships so that I can find something to put in the focused acronym. I expect your intriguing ideas and stoke the passion in my goals.
. Thank you!
Bill, Thanks so much for that comment and incredible feedback. The FOCUSED Framework is a great model for helping us to evaluate our goals. How are they going to impact our future? Do they give us energy, or rob us of our energy? These aren’t things the SMART Goals model help us to consider.
Cheers! And Thanks again for the comment. Made my day!
All the best,
I find that there is a time and place for everything. A SMART goal should be a slither of the whole goal. When working with clients in a nutrition based setting motivation and passion is important, however, so is not letting my client beat themselves up because they haven’t converted to eating a whole-foods diet in a month and are still addicted to a number of processed foods. Having SMART goals that say hey, you just need to start incorporating one serving of whole grains and let’s try drinking at least 2 cups of water a day for the next 3 days. We can reconvene see which grains they tried (or didn’t try) how they prepared them and figure out from there where how to set the next goal, I also encourage pushing past the limit if they hit it sooner than they thought. The same goes for people trying a new workout routine, or trying to fit in unplugging for an hour a day. I don’t tell my client hey this is a SMART goal, but I may create a goal based on this criteria because it’s super approachable. Most of my clients see coming to me as something already way outside of their comfort zone, so these types of goals are great to start out with.
To be fair I do prefer replacing Achievable with Actionable and Realistic with Relevant.
Hey Shalena, Thanks so much for sharing that! I certainly don’t want to prevent people from setting SMART goals or pull them away from something that’s working well for them.
Instead, I’m trying to help people think more deeply about their big goals in life. I find that so many people set goals without a strong reason. Many people set empty goals, try for a while, and then quit. Their confidence takes a hit, and they think something is wrong with them, when really, the issue was mostly likely due to a goal that wasn’t a fit for the life they’re trying to build. I myself have been there more times than I can count.
For me, thinking through FOCUSED goals really helps me keep my long-term plan in view, front and center. I appreciate your perspective and you taking the time to share. Good luck with everything in 2023!
Well said! SMART goals have been somewhat successful for me as a special education teacher, but I would find it very interesting if I could go back and see, was the students success due to a whole child approach, that I wasn’t even aware I was utilizing.
I am also intrigued to discuss the idea of time bound vs. deadline with some of my peers. We often get in the mindset of the school calendar constricting when learning needs to be completed. I know as a teacher in the past I have felt the pressure to have students obtain a skill by the end of the marking period. Yet, when I realized student growth towards goal was needed to show students themselves their progress it made the goal more attainable in their minds.
Thanks so much for your comment! SMART Goals were hit or miss for me, and it took a while for me to realize why that was. For my goals, I need a much deeper connection. I need to know how it’s going to change my life in the future, and I think that’s something we all need a little more of in our lives. Why are our goals significant to us? What kind of future do they create?
Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I’m eager to know how the FOCUSED Framework might change your, your students’, and your colleagues’ outcomes. Good luck! And Crush Your Goals!