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Why 'SMART' goals aren't really smart!

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

How many times have we been told about Goal Setting, make them SMART (S -Specific; M - Measurable; A - Achievable; R -Realistic; T - Timely) and it’ll be easy. If we are to believe the ‘personal development’ arena, it’s that easy, it’s ‘child’s play’, but if it was everyone would be setting and achieving all their goals, we’d be a world of high flyers, and everyone would succeed. So what goes wrong, why doesn’t everyone succeed? And secondly, why doesn’t everyone set the goals in the first place.

Well, in answer to the second of those two questions, as the author Elbert Hubbard once said, “Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal”, or maybe they don’t even have the belief that such achievement is possible in the first place. BUT the answer to the former question is, possibly more interesting in that it’s often that goals are set but they are the wrong goals, and they’re may well be being set for the wrong reason. And sometimes, even if we think they are right goals, they are being set by the wrong person.

How does that work, I hear you ask. Well let’s consider a child born to ambitious parents, but that their ambitions for their child don’t align with the child, who becomes a teenager, who becomes an adult. The adult has grown with the expectations of the parents, their wish, say, for the child to go into medicine, to study for years, through college, university, medical college, for instance. The goals are set, they a steps towards the prestigious career envisioned by the parents. They are SMART, they are the smart way to achieve.

Then one day the adult wakes up, literally and figuratively speaking and realises that the life that stretches out in front of them just doesn’t make their heart sing. Perhaps they will continue on the journey, perhaps, they will continue with the steps that will allow them to achieve the goal of being a surgeon or a MD but the goals are empty, bereft of any positive emotion, they no gives them any joy, (and perhaps never did).

The effort they are likely to put in is possible far less than if they woke every day with the excitement on facing their life head on, with the joy that ‘heart singing’ goals can give.

Goal Setting then is about being smart not SMART. It’s about understanding what your passion is, it’s about going back to your why, why do you want to do a certain thing. Far better to be decisive on the goals that you’re are setting and the action you are going to take, invest in them with emotion, really envision them with using every sensory tool you have. Feel the excitement of them make you optimistic about the journey you are committing to. Commit to it now and wake up each morning to something that fills you with joy.

So when it comes to your goal setting be smart and consider Edison. The man had such a vision that it enabled him to overcome the 1000’s of ‘failures’ when he attempted to create the incandescent light bulb. He saw them not as ‘failures’ but famously said. “If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…”.

He recognised each as a small step that was ultimately leading him to his goal.

And if you still need an acronym, consider his name EDISON

(E – Emotional, D – Decisive, I – Integrated. S – Sensory, O – Optimistic, N – Now)

Elaine Sullivan

Founder, Elaine K Sullivan Ltd


Training, Coaching and Mentoring

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