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Are SMART Goals Holding You Back?

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Everyone’s always talking about their GOALS. They want to make it seem like they’re making some great big strides toward some region of perfection that they’re going to nail like a bullseye with their focus, intention, manifestation, whatever. And the framework they apply to this?

SMART Goals!

Yup. That vestigial acronymous pulp of industrial-age gaslighting. “Whoa!” I can hear you saying. “Pulp? Gaslighting? But…this is the most important and effective way to structure your goals so you know what you’re looking for in life!!”

Really? OK, SMART guy. Let’s dig in…

S = Specific. Cool. How specific do you want to get? Do you want X dollars in the bank? What if you end up with more? Less? Is that a failed goal? What if your ACTUAL goal is to feel great about what you do every day? How specific is that? Specificity is a moving goalpost, folks. 

M = Measurable. I’m good with this, to an extent. What gets measured gets managed, right? Unless, of course, the goal is something that can’t be measured. Like a feeling. Or a place. Or a condition. 

A = Achievable (or attainable). Here’s where the baron class rears its head on this one. Achievable for whom, exactly? For the person telling you it’s not? Or for you? Or for someone else who’s done it? Think of anything you’d like to do in life. If even ONE person in history has done it, it’s achievable. Any reason not to is a limitation.

R = Realistic (or relevant). I don’t like the “relevant” version, because obviously if you have something you want to do it’s relevant to you, and that’s all the relevance you need. But…realistic? I picture a maudlin old filme noir with a guy at desk saying, “some day, you’ll all be workin’ for me,” and big boss man with a fat cigar and oiled back hair laughing, “be serious…you’re a desk jockey, and that’s all you’ll ever be! Just be happy you have a job with a good pension!” Everything that surrounds you in life, from your shoes to your computer to the paint on your walls to the device in your hand that can access ALL of human knowledge in milliseconds–all of it– was created by people no smarter or more talented than you. Except, to them, “realistic” was a fluid concept.

T = Time-based. Another one. A deadline. Make it happen by [DATE] or you failed to achieve your goal (ergo: it’s not Achievable). Except…what happens if you reach it a year later? Or earlier? Or never, but you still feel amazing? The time-based structure is another system-based marker to determine the validity of a goal, and it’s simply not right. Not for lifetime goals.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” —Pablo Picasso

SMART is old news. SMART keeps people average, but gives them the illusion of doing something extraordinary. SMART is comfort, pretending to push you out of your comfort zone.

SMART actually works really well for business projects: We need to get X results (specific) up to Y level (measurable), on Z budget (achievable) with A deviations (realistic), by the end B months (time-based). 

Your life is not a company project. So don’t confuse SMART goals with feeling or intuitive goals. Of course plan for what you want, but pay attention to the two actual types of goals you’re pursuing:

Process goals. These are the goals that take you toward the thing you actually want. Funny enough, they’re not goals in themselves, but steps along the path. “I got into graduate school!” isn’t a goal. It’s a process goal. Why are you going to graduate school?

Ends goals. These are the goals you’re actually seeking. The thing you want, to give you the feeling you want, based on the intuition you have about your path.

How do you know? Think about the next thing on your list. The next milestone. Is that a goal? If you think it is, say the thing out loud. Then add “so that” to the end of it, and complete the sentence.

  • “I want to lose 20 lbs by summer.” so that…
  • “I can feel better about myself.” so that…
  • “I can spend more time with my family.” so that…
  • “I will be able to enjoy them as long as possible.” so that…
  • “They will remember me at my best.”

You see? The goal isn’t the 20 lbs. It’s the idea of making an impact, of FEELING like they’re going to be remembered at their best.

This is only an example. You can do “so thats” all the way down, and probably go on forever for some goals. But the point is, know when your goal is a process goal, and when it’s an end goal. And don’t worry if you’re not SMART about it…you’ll know when you’re on the right track when you can feel, intuitively, that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and you feel comfortable with it.

Steve Baric is an ISSA Elite Trainer, Nutritionist, and Transformation Specialist, as well as a certified Master Life Coach. As the founder of the Man Under Construction Project, he helps men recover from the trauma and confusion of divorce. His annual fall fitness challenge, Your Personal Reset Button, helps busy moms and dads shed extra pounds and reset their metabolic hormones in the privacy of their own homes.

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