The Problem with SMART Goals

by | Dec 14, 2015 | Impact & Results

Setting SMART GoalsWhen I was a young girl playing in the back yard of my parents 20 room small town motel, I dreamed about being an astronomer, a teacher, and a writer. I didn’t dream of working ten hours a day to build someone else’s business.

Yet, at the age of 30, I found myself doing just that.

Somehow my childhood dreams of writing, teaching, and running my own business turned into dreams of earning a six-figure salary.

And – when I hit that six figure milestone – I wondered why I set the bar so low.

Philip McKernan says, “Most people are chasing goals that do not belong to them.”

Somewhere in my teenage years, I let go of my childhood dreams and pursued the very accepted path of corporate life.

But, it was never what I really wanted.

It wasn’t all that was possible for me or for my life. It was just a goal that was achievable, measurable and very socially acceptable.

I love reading about Elon Musk, creator of Tesla and SpaceX, because he sets goals nobody thinks are possible and he goes for it. Few of us possess his level of genius or his ability to risk it all, but what if we just dreamed a little bigger?

What if we let go of what is accepted, even what is practical, and set goals that scared us, even a little?

Most of us have learned to set goals using the SMART framework … or a framework like it. You know what I am talking about, right?





Time Based

There’s nothing wrong with that framework, except most people sit down to set their goals for the New Year with good intentions, and by March they’ve given up or gotten sidetracked (ok … they probably give up by the end of January, but I like to be optimistic). In a way, it’s not their fault. That framework sets you up to pursue boring and practical goals. That’s not a recipe for success.

What if the SMART goals frame work was something more like:

Scary Exciting


Action Oriented

Really Easy to Visualize

Tied to a Greater Vision

Mark Murphy, author of HARD Goals, uses a simple question to test whether someone will achieve their goal, or not. He asks them:

Why do you care about this goal?

If your answer is money … the odds are against you. Money just isn’t an adequate motivator for most people. It’s really not a motivator if you have food on your table and a roof over your head.

A goal that is specific and measurable is easy to tick off a list, but it’s boring. Goals that are easily achievable won’t challenge your brain to perform at an optimal level to get there. And, a deadline means nothing if you can’t see what success looks like and how it fits in to creating the life you really want to live.

Your goals need to scare you to the point of forced focus AND you need to clearly see what success looks like. That’s a recipe that is much more likely to create the results you want.

Jim Collins introduced BHAG for corporate goals in his book From Good to Great. BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Your BHAG is at the intersection of what you care about passionately, what you can be the best in the world at and something that drives your economic engine.

You have to get fired up about your goal and see how it’s going to get you to the life you want. Then you’ll leap out of bed to get to it every single day.

To Win, You Need Chips in the Center

Setting Goals for 2016I’ve been learning to play No Limit Texas Hold’em Poker. Nick Binger, the instructor at the World Poker Tour Cash Camp I took, said “Make the right decisions and you can expect to win about 60% of the time.” He laughed and then asked, “So how often does it feel like you’re losing if you’re winning 60% of the time?

Losing 40% of the time will feel like losing 90% of the time.

Yet, winning 60% of the time means your making progress.

The thought of failing 40% of the time is scarier than winning 60% of the time.

We’re taught to play it safe.

This kind of programming makes setting great goals more difficult. We want to protect ourselves from loss more than we want to push for the big payday.

Poker teaches you that the ONLY way you can get the big payday is to be ok with the losses along the way. I’ll never win in Poker if my chips aren’t in the middle. The goal is to minimize your losses and maximize your wins.

With poker there is also a visible cost to doing nothing. In life, when you delay important decisions, you pay but it’s not always easy to see the cost.

Poker shows you, with real money, that it costs you to do nothing. Every 15 minutes or so, when you’re playing a cash game, you will have to put in the blinds (essentially, it’s a forced bet). If you play the lowest stakes (called a 1-2 game), every hour you sit at the table and do nothing costs you $9-$12 dollars.

Because you’ll watch your chip stack dwindle, most players take action even when conditions aren’t perfect. You try to create opportunities. You will not sit on the sidelines doing nothing because it’s expensive.

If only we all had this real cost right in front of us everyday we might not be so reserved in what we do with our lives.

At some point you have to make a leap. You will have to go all in, or lose time and money sitting watching the opportunities pass by.

As you sit down to plan for 2016, may I suggest you don’t set a bunch of goals that mean very little to you. Sure, it would be nice if you FINALLY bought that rental property, got that promotion, or started your blog, but what really has you fired up, a little terrified, and will help you create that ideal day you’re dreaming of living?

When you find that thing you’re scared to say out loud, or nervous to put on paper … but you can’t stop thinking about it … you’ve probably found the thing you should focus on for 2016.

Seth Godin wrote a cool little book called Poke the Box. To create anything remarkable in your life and business, you must initiate. You have to be willing to fail and be blamed. Initiative is scarce and that makes it enormously valuable.

You might fail … but you might not. The only certainty is you won’t know until you try. Make 2016 the year you try!


You May Also Like:

> 7 Time Sucking Mistakes that Aren’t Getting You the Results You Want

> If All You’re Doing is Enjoying Yourself

> Double Your Productivity – How to Hire the Right Virtual Assistant


Image Credit:
1st ID 55989620 © Paulus Rusyanto
2nd Image: ID 58526058 © Ivan Mateev 

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