I think it’s time we had a long, frank talk about so-called SMART goals.
I hang around in productivity forums and self-improvement communities, so I must have heard hundreds of folk talk about how great they are.
How they revolutionise goalsetting.
And how if you use any other system, you’re chaining yourself to a log caught in rapids and heading for a waterfall.
In case you (somehow) haven’t come across this yet, SMART is an acronym that describes what every worthy goal should allegedly have. Like I say, I’ve heard hundreds of folk spruik this… and maybe three point out some of the glaring, obvious limitations.
You’re never going to look at them the same way again.
Consider a conversation between a SMART-loving coach and a client who’s never heard of them before…
Coach: I recommend setting SMART goals. The S, you see, stands for ‘specific’.
Client: Okay, that makes sense. Better that than a vague goal. So something like “I want to increase my salary to seven figures by the end of the year”.
Coach: Exactly! Now, the M stands for ‘measurable’ – pretty self-explanatory. The A stands-
Client: Hold on… measurable?
Coach: Yep! If it’s not measurable, how do you know when you’re making progress?
Client: Sure… but we already have specific. Isn’t that redundant?
Coach: No, see, specific is about being clear with your goals. Measuring is about being about to quantify success.
Client: Right… but those are the same thing. Can something be measurable and not be specific?
Coach: Well… I… huh. Um… let’s come back to that. The A stands for ‘achievable’, or some people say ‘attainable’.
Client: Okay, great. That makes sense… and doesn’t mean the same thing as the others, haha.
Coach: Yeah… and the R stands for ‘realistic’.
Client: … oh, this is a prank! Oh, good one, you really had me going.
Coach: What? No, it’s not a… what?
Client: ‘Achievable’ and ‘realistic’ are synonyms. They mean exactly the same thing. We’re up to the fourth letter and you’ve only said two things. What does T stand for? Totally doable? Tightly defined? This SMART goal thing is hilarious.
Coach: It’s ‘time-bound’… whatever, we’re done here.
Now, some folk say the R is ‘relevant’, which is a useful thing to add. Even if I gave you that one – most definitions I see say, in sheer adoration of thesauruses, ‘realistic’ – it doesn’t eliminate the redundancy.
If you list of five things has an identical pair, let alone two, you might want to rethink your acronym.
But even if I forgave that…
“I’m going to consume heroin by midday” is a perfectly valid SMART goal and a perfectly terrible idea. It’s specific, measurable, achievable/realistic (I guess? I have no idea how easy it is to get heroin. It mustn’t be difficult…) and time-bound.
“I’m going to increase my vegetable intake by one serving a month, starting today” is also fully SMART, yet so underwhelming it’s not worth your time to formulate.
You can set SMART goals that are worthwhile… but don’t align with your life’s ambition. For example, you can use this framework to stab folk in the back in your quest to make the world a better place. Or you might want to improve your health, so you SMARTly exercise five times a day until something breaks.
You can even set a SMART goal for something you’ve already done, just to fake a sense of progress.
And it gets worse. Nowhere in this cutesy little acronym is a measure of your emotional reaction or gut instinct. If you pen this goal and every fibre of your being screams “no, don’t do it!”… too bad, slugger, because there’s nowhere to capture that.
Oh, and you can set a goal to be a millionaire in a year… and do nothing about it for 11 months, then scramble in a panic for the last one. SMART goals have zero accountability, plan or commitment built in.
SMART goals are utterly inadequate, redundant and barely useful.
Yet somehow everyone crows about them.
That’s why I favour dumbdumb goals instead. True to form, DUMBDUMB is an acronym. Untrue to form, it’s thorough and not redundant.
D is for Doable. Is it realistic/achievable/attainable?
U is for Useful. Is it relevant? Does this goal actually advance your vision?
M is for Measurable. It’s an important variable, even if I only include it once.
B is for Beliefs and Values. Does following this goal conflict with the life you want to live? Is this the sort of goal you’ll be proud you met, thinking back on it on your deathbed?
D is for Desire. Does the goal make you feel passionate and excited?
U is for Undertaking. How much time and effort will it take to achieve this goal? If it takes two hours a day, then you’d better schedule in two hours a day right now.
M is for Mighty. Are you playing it safe, or does your goal stretch you, challenge you and make you grow?
And B is for Bounded-in-Time, because one good thing about SMART goals is they have a deadline.
There you have it. A thorough, useful and non-redundant system for creating goals. Use it and enjoy.
Speaking of DUMBDUMB goals…
One goal folk often want to make is to sharpen your mind. What could be a better use of your time than that?
The problem is, how do you measure that? Play one of those cutesy brain training games every day? While fun, that won’t do the trick.
But you can train your mind and see real results. You won’t be able to forget how much you improve – day by day, week by week. Not by playing games but by doing real, intensive inner work.
Like the exercises you find right here: