Are SMART Goals Really Stupid

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Goal setting is a powerful process for thinking about what you want and then inspiring you to turn your vision into reality.  It involves becoming clear about what you want to achieve in your life and then breaking that down into the steps and actions you need to take in order to make it happen.

As a rule of thumb, top-level achievers have mastered the art of goal setting and goal achieving.  Many even consider it to be their number one key to success.

Brian Tracy said, “Only three percent of adults have written goals, and everyone else works for them.”

Here is the catch.  Most people know about the importance of goal setting and yet they do not do it.  Why?

I have a radical answer.  Goal setting, as it is generally taught, is fundamentally flawed.  Even worse, goal setting done this way is oftentimes more damaging than it is beneficial.  SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic within a specific Time frame) end up not really being so smart.

The first thing to realize is that there are two categories of goals ~ performance goals and being/lifestyle goals.

Here is an easy way to understand the difference.  Imagine that you are back in school taking a Spanish class.  A performance goal would be to get an “A” in the class.  A being/lifestyle goal would be to be able to communicate in Spanish.

Getting an “A” is SMART.  It is specific, measurable . . .  Being able to go to my favorite Mexican restaurant and being able to have a conversation with my waiter in Spanish is not so SMART.  It is not very specific.  It is hard to measure . . .

I do not know about you, but I took a bunch of classes where I got a good grade but I did not learn anything.  Achieving the performance goal did not create any lasting value in my life.

And, that is the problem.  Performance goals typically do not create lasting value.  They do not make you feel better about yourself and they do not make your life better.

For a short period of time you can feel good about getting the “A”.  But a day or two later, it is just about impossible to feel any strong emotions or satisfaction about getting the “A”.  It has become a “So what?” and a “What is next?”  Contrast that to the experience of talking to the waiter in Spanish.  You could remember that years later and have a surge of emotion and feel good about yourself.

Recently my volleyball team won our tournament (a performance goal).  Afterwards, we were all very excited and on an emotional high.  Within 24 hours that had lost almost all of its juice.  I could not really experience any great satisfaction from being the tournament champion.  It had become a “So what?”

However, I can still experience great satisfaction and excitement in thinking about how we won.  We were behind in every single game, yet we kept our composure.  We stayed positive.  We supported each other and we rallied to win.

Playing as a team, keeping our composure, supporting each other, those are being/lifestyle goals.

Traditional goal setting teaches people to set performance goals.  The formula goes like this ~ set goals, achieve those goals and then you will have a better life and feel better about yourself.

However, this formula simply does not work.  Performance goals do not make your life better or more fulfilling.  They do not create a lasting sense of well-being or satisfaction.  Performance goals do not have soul.

Did getting the “A” on the test make your life better (for more than 5 minutes)?  Was it a turning point in your life?  Did you all of a sudden become happier?  No, no and no!

This is where performance goals can become damaging.  They can put you in a lose – lose situation, demotivate you and create worse performance.

If you do achieve your SMART goal, the formula tells you that your life is supposed to be better and you are supposed to be happier.  But, your life does not get better and you do not get happier.  Then you get to doubt yourself and wonder what is wrong with you because you are working the formula but the formula is not working for you.  The classic example of this is mid-life crisis.

The formula promotes Do ~ Have ~ Be rather than Be ~ Do ~ Have and it just does not work this way.  We must “Be” first.

Wayne Dyer said, “There is no way to happiness.  Happiness is the way.”  No amount of doing and having can create an inner state like joy, peace of mind or happiness.  Experiencing these states is a result of choosing to be joyful, at peace or happy, not a result of circumstances.

How is it that some people experienced something horrible like The Holocaust and managed to leave the prison camps with love in their hearts while others left with bitterness and anger in their hearts?

Here is how:  The same circumstances were experienced by different states of “Be” which resulted in a different “Have”.

Imposter Syndrome is also the result of Do ~ Have ~ Be.  It occurs most often in highly successful professionals and academics, people who seem to have “Do” and “Have” completely handled.  It is also quite common.

People with Imposter Syndrome are unable to internalize their successes and accomplishments.  Regardless of their level of success, they feel inadequate.  Even though all the logical evidence points to the fact that they are a success, they do not believe it.  They are convinced that they do not deserve the success they have achieved and that they are actually frauds.  They attribute their success to luck, timing, a fluke or fooling others into thinking that they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.  These people often fear that their fraud will be discovered.

These people have achieved a lot of SMART goals, a lot of performance goals, and they are not “Being” success.  Consequently they suffer tremendous fear of being found out.

On the other hand, if you do not achieve your SMART goal then you get to feel bad about yourself and wonder what is wrong with you because you cannot achieve your goals.

When either of these happens, goal setting becomes another way for people to feel bad about themselves (and who needs that?).

This is why so many people do not set goals or have tried goal setting and quit.  Something that was supposed to make their life better, goal setting, instead became this oppressive burden that made their life worse.  Their goal setting practice resulted in them having less vitality, less optimism, feeling worse about themselves and feeling guilty.

A Better Way

Being/lifestyle goals do have soul.  They nourish us.  They are goals like happiness, service, love, contribution, educate, share, support, inspire . . .  This is sounding a lot like a Soul Values list.

These types of goals are much “softer”, less tangible and less well defined than performance goals.  However, they are personally meaningful because they connect with our Soul Values and our life purpose.  They inspire us, support us in being more authentic, inspire us to grow as individuals, and create satisfaction and fulfillment.

Doing business from the perspective of a being/lifestyle goal is radically different than doing business from the perspective of a performance goal.  It is different for both you and for the person you are doing business with.

A performance goal puts you into an antagonistic relationship with your prospect.  He or she has your money and you need to get it!  If you do not get it, then you have failed.  It is win or lose and your prospect knows this too.

A being/lifestyle goal puts you into a synergistic relationship with your prospect.  You are creating something together.  You get the fulfillment of doing something that is personally meaningful, like serving, contributing or . . .  Your prospect gets the experience of being served and appreciated and you get to explore together what might make sense business-wise.

Your Being/Lifestyle Goals

What are your being/lifestyle goals?  What are those magic words that are so meaningful to you?  What are the experiences you want to provide for yourself and for others?

Once you determine what this is, use this as the foundation from which you live your life.  Bring it to everything you do.

My main being/lifestyle goal is to serve others.  I remind myself of this frequently throughout the day.   This practice has had such a positive impact on my life!

One of the beautiful things about this type of goal is that it is easy to achieve.  It would take effort to not serve and contribute to a client, a prospect, a friend . . .  I would have to deliberately be mean and nasty or be preoccupied in order to not achieve this goal that is so very meaningful and fulfilling to me.

Combining Performance Goals With Being/Lifestyle Goals

Performance goals are not bad but they usually cause problems when they stand-alone.  The wise way to use performance goals is to have them come from or be supported by a being/ lifestyle goal.  Then the performance goals become a natural extension of a being/lifestyle goal.

My being/lifestyle goal is to serve others.  When I speak, that is my primary goal.  I also have a performance goal to sell a specific number of books.  However, that performance goal is supported by my being/lifestyle goal.

I know that the content of my books is valuable and helps people to get out of their own way so that they can live a great life.  Therefore, when someone buys my book, I am serving him or her.

And whether they buy or not I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am living my life purpose and that I served that person.

So by all means set performance goals.  Just make sure that they connect with your being/ lifestyle goals!

For more on this, I highly recommend that you read Drive by Daniel Pink!


Generally speaking, people who resist setting goals are also not very strong in setting intentions.  This should come as no surprise since goals and intentions are synonymous.

This usually causes some problems because intentions are what give our day-to-day life purpose, focus and direction.

The opposite of being intentional is being a victim of life where you have no say so in how things go and instead are forced to blindly accept life as it comes.  This is not the recipe for living a great life.

Imagine tying a few logs together, pushing your new raft into the river and then jumping on.  You are now at the mercy of the current.  You have to go wherever the current decides to take you.  It could take you to smooth waters but it could also take you to waterfalls, rocks or whirlpools.  This is life without intention.

Now imagine that you have paddles, a long pole to use to push off of the bottom or a rudder.  Your raft is still being moved down river by the current.  However, you are no longer at the mercy of the current.  You have influence over which parts of the river you get to experience.  This is life with intention.

When we do not add intention to our being/lifestyle goals, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.  This is an easy trap to fall into.

It is great to have a being/lifestyle goal like:  be of service.  And, how well can you serve others if your own needs are not met?

What if that being/lifestyle goal to serve others was complemented by an intention like:  this creates both fulfillment and abundance for me or, I live a magnificent life because I do this?

Ponder the last two paragraphs for a moment and compare how each one of them makes you feel.

Chances are that the one with the intention included produces a richer and more vibrant experience.  It just feels better.  It is more exciting and compelling.

We need to claim our rewards, and intention is the way to do this.  Abundance, wealth and goodness are there.  They are waiting for us.  We just need to first seek them and then claim them.

A book has never impacted me as intensely as did this section of The Richest Man In Babylon.

Bansir the chariot maker says, “From early dawn until darkness stopped me, I have labored to build the finest chariots any man could make, softheartedly hoping some day God would recognize my worthy deeds and bestow upon me great prosperity.  This he has never done.”

OH MY GOSH!!!! That is what I had been doing for the last 25 years.  I had been softheartedly hoping rather than being intentional.  And, it was not working for me.

Two pages later Bansir’s friend, Kobbi the musician, says to Bansir, “Thou bringeth to my mind a new understanding.  Though makest me to realize the reason why we have never found any measure of wealth.  We never sought it.”

Bansir sought to be a great chariot maker.  Kobbi sought to be a skillful musician.  Neither of them sought wealth.  They were not intentional about it.

When my daughter wants ice cream, she does not softheartedly hope that maybe I will offer her some ice cream.  She gets intentional about it and she asks and asks and asks and asks.

Imagine working in a factory in the old days where you got paid in cash after work every Friday.  You have completed your week’s worth of work.  You have earned your reward but if you do not go to the office and claim your reward, you will go home with an empty pocket.

Intention is claiming our reward.

(This article is an excerpt from my new book, A Great Life Does Not Happen By Accident.)

photo credit: <a href=””>North Carolina Digital Heritage Center</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>


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