Why SMART Goals Suck

It’s a long time since I wrote about goal setting.

I have a tendency to take it for granted – that everybody knows how to set goals, but of course that isn’t true.

One of the abilities of great self development writers is to forget what they know and understand there are always new people starting out on their self development journey.

I have to confess, it isn’t my greatest skill.

I have a tendency to think people know what I know and that writing about what is obvious to me may come across as patronizing, or have people rolling their eyes and saying ‘duh’ to themselves.

Of course that’s not true. Just as I am continually learning and growing, so are you, and so is everybody that has an interest in self development.

There is no destination for personal improvement, no arrival point.

Equally, there is no one size fits all.

There is no how it is, just how it is for you, no matter what some of the leading experts insist on telling you.

Yes, there are common denominators as we are about to talk about with goal setting, but if you read or hear about a  theory, approach or suggestion that cannot fail when it comes to self development, be suspicious – very suspicious.


For years I believed strongly in SMART goals. I had been introduced to them in business as being THE best way to set and achieve goals.

Who was I to disagree?

It obviously meant that if they didn’t work for me then there was something wrong with me, because they had been the default method in business and personal development since the early 80’s when they had been developed by George T Doran.

And anyway, they said SMART in the name, so what could be wrong about such a cute acronym?

Firstly, it’s important to look at the origin, and the clue was the fact that I was introduced to them in the working environment.

SMART goals were never designed to be used personally, they were for business projects and as such make much more sense.

For example, whereas the ‘A’ is now usually reserved to mean action-oriented (or achievable by people who don’t realize that means pretty much the same as the ‘R’ of realistic) it was originally meant to mean ‘assignable’.

Corporate Smart Goals

In any corporate project somebody (or some department) has to take responsibility for the undertaking, so this makes perfect sense.

And in many ways it made sense to make this tweak (from assignable to achievable or action oriented) and transfer them over into the self development arena.

However, I am left thinking it’s the name that made people so eager to trumpet them and that if they acronym was SHITTIER goals, that they’d have stayed put in the business world where they belonged.

The problem is, SMART goals miss out two crucial elements to personal goal setting which is why I got even cuter and smugger than Mr. Doran and devised SMARTER goals.

Just in case you are unsure of what SMART goals are, here is a quick overview.

rules of goal setting

What Are Smart Goals?

S = Specific. The goal has to be distinct so that somebody else can read it and understand it (within reason – obviously you may have a complicated goal to spilt a ‘strange quark’ in which case few people would know what the fuck you were talking about), but your fellow scientists should know.

M = Measurable. If you cannot measure your goal, how will you know what progress you’re making? It’s a rhetorical question because the answer is, you won’t.

A = Action Oriented. It cannot be a goal if it doesn’t require you to take action, it’s more of a wish. As I said above, some people refer to this step as ‘achievable’ but do you really need that when we have:

R = Realistic. Is your goal achievable? Is it physically possible to do? I don’t mind people with big hairy audacious goals at all, in fact I love it when clients come with them. But setting a goal to own the world is being silly.

T = Timebound. Goals have to have an end point otherwise they tend to drift.

The end point can be adjusted if circumstances demand it, but without one in place it’s difficult for people to focus.

Always set a timescale in place and then adjust accordingly if you really need to.

You maybe thinking ‘woo-hoo baby, that has goals covered off!” and I’d reply, ‘lighten up Francis, we are two elements missing’.

Firstly, goals have to take into account the effect they have on others.

A Splattery Death

if you have a goal of being the first man to fly, and then jump off El Capitan armed only with a pair of Speedos saving your dignity and a lot of hope, you may want to take into account your partner and 3 kids who don’t want you to die a splattery death.

Similarly, if you want to be the first person to destroy the entire Amazon Rain Forest and merrily set off on your way with a truck full of gasoline and some matches, you may want to consider the bigger implications on humanity of your actions.

So on our way to SMARTER (and smugger) we need to include the ‘E’ of either environment or ecology (the two or interchangeable).

In other words, what effect does your goal have on other people and everything around you?

Hitler had a goal of ruling Europe. It sure as hell met the SMART goal method, but it stumbled slightly when he came to the ecology.

Millions of dead people, destroyed cities and total chaos doesn’t really ft the ‘good’ ecology method and the environment (both personal and natural) was totally lacking – especially when the Russians slashed and burned everything in his path to thwart his entry into their domain.

What Is Your Reward?

And finally we need the ‘R’of reward and this is THE most important aspect.

It’s not material reward, status or power, but the reward of meeting your core values.

if your goals aren’t in alignment with your values – the things you hold most dear to you as a Human Being, you are quite frankly, fucked.

People who have goals around money, power or status that are not driven by their core values are seldom, if ever, satisfied.

Every time they hit a goal there is a sense of anti-climax. So they set another bigger, ‘better’ goal and the same result ensues.

They are either self critical if they don’t hit it, or deflated that it means little if they do.

Anybody can set goals, but not anybody can set the right goals, which is why I hammer home the importance of values again and again with clients.

If you want to know how to set great goals, sign up for my newsletter in the top right corner (or below) and get my free ebook that goes into much more detail.

If you want to set the right goals either hire me or grab a copy of Aligning With Your Core Values so you’re sure they are the right ones.

I’d be really grateful if you could right click and save image as…. the infographic below and then share on social media. Thanks!