The SMART Goals system was one of the first subjects that I was exposed to when I first entered the self improvement world. It was back in high school, before I ever though of running my own business or becoming a self-improvement writer obsessed about goals and goal setting.
In one of my classes, I was taught about this amazing goal-setting system called SMART goals. Little did I know that the first time I heard it, I’d be hearing about it constantly from that point forward, along with many other people out there.
Despite hearing about this system so often to the point it’s driving me insane, I can’t blame people for talking about this system and using this system.
But as I’ve been spending more and more time in the self improvement world and specifically looking up goal setting systems, the more I learn how terrible this system actually is.
I can say with confidence that most people’s goals will not work with the SMART goal system. The only time it makes some sense to use this system is in niche situations like reaching a well-defined target under a steady-state situation. For example, reaching a certain amount of sales or earnings in a month or a quarter.
Beyond that, it’s dangerous to apply this in every pursuit you take on. Here are the problems with it.
SMART Goals Lack All Kinds Of Emotion
The first thing to note is that the system lacks any kind of emotion. Sure it’s going to give you a goal that’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. But what about emotional?
We are creatures of emotion by nature. We can fall in love at the turn of a dime, buy things we don’t need on the basis of emotion. People also help strangers on the street, or quit their jobs and become entrepreneurs due to a bad day.
There are high chances that we’ve all done something good or bad just because our emotions influenced that behaviour. Even if we don’t feel any kind of emotion when we recall those moments in the past, that’s the thing with emotions. They can be fleeting, but very powerful.
In terms of goals though this is still a critical thing. If you’re not emotionally invested in something, you’re going to move on and forget about it. It follows the same principles as resolutions. Sure you’ll be invested in your resolutions for a time, but once the emotions fade. You’ll give up. That’s why many resolutions simply don’t work for people.
The SMART goal system falls into that same sort of pit where the goal doesn’t have emotions or motivations or even dreams that you’re aspiring for.
On that note…
SMART Goals Never Consider The Future
Over the years I’ve heard all kinds of arguments against setting goals. Some of them range from silly reasons to actual sound ones. But to all these kinds of arguments I say this:
Why do we set goals in the first place? Because we aspire for more in some way shape or form or some other reason.
Even if you don’t call them goals, there is bound to be things that you want to achieve while on Earth. Even if you are perfectly content with your life right now and you’re maintaining it, there are still things in your life that you want to have or that you think can be improved upon.
Whatever you call these things, these are things that you know will provide you with a better future in some way. In other words, these are goals that you’ll want to be working towards.
When you have goals of that nature, the SMART goals system can’t exactly help with those kinds of things. In cases where you are building something big, a SMART goal representing that goal won’t cut it. Instead it’s smarter to be setting smaller goals that build up towards that.
Maybe the SMART system could work in those kinds of respects, but again it saps emotion from it.
Goals Themselves Are Meant To Be Challenging Too
To further drive the point that the SMART goal system lacks emotion is that the goals you are setting with the system offer no challenge. The reason I know this is thanks to the “A”. The system already wants you to be setting goals that are achievable for this system to work.
So automatically, the system is building on the assumption that you’re going to achieve this goal no matter what. The reasoning it assumes that and encourages this is that if you’re too ambitious, you could fail and thus lose motivation to pursue that goal.
It’s a fair point, but at the same time, goals that you know you’re going to achieve no matter what are boring. Think about it. Imagine that everything you could ever want in life is achieved within an instant with barely any effort on your front.
How would that make you feel? Probably excited for a little bit, but eventually those emotions will fade.
One thing that I discovered in life is that we need to have negativity in some fashion in our lives. Just as there are chances to succeed, there should also be chances to fail. And sure we will do everything we can to ensure we succeed as much as possible. But that’s what makes life so thrilling and meaningful. It allows us to grow.
SMART goals don’t really grow us in any way because it’s designed for us to not feel emotions, but also to go out and get it done with little effort on our part. It’s boring because there lacks any kind of challenge or adversity in the goals.
Smart Goals Focus Too Much On One Goal
One important aspect to know about goals is that having too many goals going on is bad for you. You see, goals compete with your attention a lot so one of the main strategies that I and many others encourage is to be setting fewer goals.
And though with SMART goals systems typically encourage one goal at a time, it often puts too much focus on it at a time and that’s bad.
Because even knowing that goals often compete with one another, chances are you have several goals in the back of your mind that you want to be achieving. Even with me prioritizing my business beyond everything else, I’m still setting time aside for working on my health-related goals. Not to mention trying to weave in some other goals in there as well.
The issue with SMART goals is that they often demand your focus for a period of time. It’s all this system wants you to be focusing on.
The system could pose even more of a threat to your other goals. After all, some goals — while competitive — could also be contributing goals. Meaning that completing these goals could make achieving other goals easier.
For example, improving my health is a contributing goal in my life. For one, it’ll help with achieving some of my health goals. However it also has an improvement to my business and social goals as well. I’ve had a desire to meet new people and to find work. Going to a community gym could help me in obtaining those goals in various ways.
If I was focused on achieving my health goals via this system, I wouldn’t recognize how it helped in my social and professional life.
SMART Goals Can’t Measure Everything
Another sore spot with this system is though these goals are designed to be measurable, they’re only measuring in absolutes. You’ve either achieved your goal or you’ve failed.
In some cases, this can be good in managing specific things like hitting targets on projects. However in the cases of other goals that can’t exactly be measured by such finite ways, it’s disheartening.
In the case of trying to succeed those SMART goals, people usually end up chasing after that goal and letting that goal take over their entire identity.
But should people fail, well, it makes people feel everything they’ve done is a total and utter waste. The SMART goal system only accepts wins and losses. There are no partial points in there.
The thing with goals is they do have those partial points. They’re in there all the time — including those finite detailed ones. When I’m working out, I do get points for trying, even if my body is telling me to stop. Even if my body does give out at that point, I at least tried. I at least challenged myself. And that effort isn’t going to be put to waste.
Another part is the fact goals have lessons. With lessons, you can apply them for next time. But with the SMART goal system, it tells you to forget about them. It doesn’t care about those. It doesn’t acknowledge that you might’ve gained something from it if you failed.
They Don’t Promote Growth
While we often associate challenge with growth, the term growth has more meaning beyond that in the cases of achieving goals. All that you need to do is look at how goals are actually achieved.
When you’re looking for goals that provide you with substantial growth, the goals will require you to have a specific skill set in order to begin pursuing them in the first place. Lacking these skills will result in failure almost immediately.
Think of it like cooking. If you want to make the greatest fish dish the world has ever seen, you’re going to need the ingredients and skills, but also all the tools necessary to make the cake. Improvising with the ingredients could work, but you can’t find a suitable replacement with tools.
Either you have it or don’t.
Goals work in the same manner as genuine goals encourage you to build habits around it to make it a more viable target to achieve.
I didn’t go from sitting around all day to immediately working out and lifting incredibly heavy weights on day one of working out. It was all a gradual and steady process to the point now where I can go to a gym five times a week and not think twice about it.
It’s now part of my lifestyle.
SMART goals tell you to simply “get it done”. It doesn’t tell you whether you need extra things to make it stick or work for you. It assumes the goal is already achievable at your current skill and abilities too. So it definitely doesn’t encourage you to go above and beyond your current pace.
Set Regular Goals
Just like with a lot of things that I learned in high school, it has no real world application to me at all. Still this system lingers on as the sole goal setting system out there.
Even so, it’s not a great system and there probably won’t be other ones out there. People are unusual creatures and there is no definitive way for how you ought to be setting goals and working towards them. All that I know is that this system doesn’t work and you are much better off building your own system.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon