This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book on goal achievement. Enjoy!
If you’ve invested any time in the world of goal setting, you’ve likely heard of SMART Goals. The acronym is everywhere. If you make your goals Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic and Timed, you’re on your way to achieving big things.
But are you, really?
Think of the lofty ambitions people achieve every day—in all areas of society. When they’re asked how they do it, none of them say, “I sit down with my SMART goal strategy and the rest is history.” There is something else fueling their psychological fire in how they set and achieve their goals.
My problem with SMART Goals is not the framework. You’ll see a lot of similar components from it throughout this book. It is certainly better than nothing and it gives simple structure to the way you think about goals.
My main problem is that it misses the mark on how Outperformers actually achieve big things in their personal, professional and athletic lives. On the field of play of goal achievement, SMART Goals are a role player; they’re not the difference maker.
This is where I recommend—regardless of your goal setting method—making your goals more DUMB.
Yes, DUMB, as in Dream Driven, Unrealistic, Meaningful and Benefits Others.
For the vast majority of people that set goals but fail to achieve them, it’s not the strategy of how the goals were set. It’s the execution of how the goals were achieved.
Here’s why your goals should be DUMB:
In the Own It chapter later in this book, I talk about the powerful pull that society has on our ability to take ownership of our goals. Long before this was possible, we were all innocent and imaginative kids.
We thought we could BE or DO anything. And we weren’t afraid to tell others about it.
Then, at some point, we stopped dreaming. Slowly but surely, we started comparing ourselves to others and stopped envisioning our possibilities. By adulthood, we’d built a self-imposed ceiling that, in childhood, was an open roof.
I’m challenging you to find your inner child and to dream again. I’m not advocating that you have to send someone to Mars or be the one that cures cancer, but give yourself permission to dream about what is possible for you, your family, your team, your company, your community or your organization.
If it doesn’t stir something within you and make you slightly uncomfortable, you probably haven’t dreamed big enough.
The definition of realistic is “having or showing a sensible and practical idea of what can be achieved or expected.”
Wow, there’s nothing that fires someone up like a sensible or practical idea! Let’s GO—I can’t wait to get started!
This is easily my biggest contention with SMART goals—the suggestion that they must be “realistic.” Something unrealistic is equated to certain failure. Setting a smaller, realistic goal and succeeding is better than setting a lofty, unrealistic goal and failing.
What is “realistic?”
Who makes this ruling, anyway?
Everything is unrealistic until someone does it. A kid from the wrong side of town that’s the first one in the family to go to college is unrealistic. A person that quits smoking cold-turkey and runs a marathon six months later is unrealistic. A small business owner remaining in business and profitable is unrealistic.
You have done multiple things in your life that—connecting the dots looking backwards—were unrealistic at the time.
You did it anyway. You never stopped to ask whether it was sensible or practical. You made it happen.
Here’s the bottom line:
Any goal is realistic with an intelligent plan to accomplish it.
Telling someone to be realistic is telling them to be self-limiting. Nothing noteworthy or significant was ever achieved by playing smaller than your capabilities. Set a goal without reservation. Then, create a purposeful plan to achieve it. If, at this point, it sounds unrealistic, then maybe we return to square one. But you won’t know that unless you try it.
Deep down in the places we seldom talk about, why does this goal matter to you? If you cannot answer this question, the goal isn’t meaningful.
Let’s take one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions, weight loss. 48% of people who set resolutions said this is their primary goal. Weight loss, by itself, is not meaningful. Weight is nothing more than a unit of measurement. None of us walk around with a number etched into our forehead, stating our current weight.
For people that are serious about losing weight, there is something meaningful about wanting to achieve this goal beyond the raw number on the scale.
It may be a feeling they want to have from fitting into an old pair of jeans. It may be the ability to play with a child or grandchild and not get tired. It may be a serious health scare that has opened their eyes and inspired changes.
Your goal must have meaning or you’ll quit when things get hard. You’ll quit when you don’t feel like it. You’ll quit when it’s inconvenient.
Meaning is the glue that holds your goals together.
Goal getting can sometimes feel like a lonely road. You’re grinding and it seems no one cares whether you fail or succeed. You become convinced that your pursuit is unimportant.
Untrue. People do care.
The final component of DUMB Goals is to fasten it to the benefit of others. When you do this, you’re pulled instead of pushed. You’re not powering the force; the force is powering you. It’s far more motivating and maintainable.
Trust me, this is easier said than done. At times I’ve struggled writing this book, wondering whether it matters or whether anyone is interested.
If I gave up, would people even notice?
When I catch myself thinking that, though, I immediately pivot to the person (maybe you?) who will benefit from these pages. They pull me.
Who will benefit from you achieving your goal? You can also ask the flip side via FOMO (fear of missing out), who will miss out if you don’t achieve your goal? Whoever comes to mind in these two prompts, let them pull you.
Your positive impact on others is a powerful motivator in winning the mental game of goals. You will always play harder for them than you will for yourself.
SMART Goals would work flawlessly in a society dominated by logical, emotionless robots. But as any great salesperson will tell you—we buy on emotion and justify with logic. So, if the first fundamental of goal achievement is simply buying into what we’re doing, we cannot continue to think the most rational goal setting plan will move the needle. It won’t.
Go forth and be DUMB. The world needs it now more than ever.