Are SMART Goals Dumbing Us Down?

It’s the time of the year that most people do that “New Year Resolution” thing. When you look up goal setting and have participated in any program that has anything to do with “setting goals”, you have probably heard of “SMART goals.”

I have been resisting “goal setting” for a long time. Something does not resonate with me. I know if we want to get to where we want to go, we need to know where we are going. I know with a destination, we can chart a course and find the means to get there. So I have been plagued by guilt because of my seeming inability to “set goals” and do the “resolution” thing… just like everyone else does (or just like everyone professes.)

Until I realized maybe it’s the way “goal setting” is done, and not the idea of “goal setting” itself that is the challenge. So I look at how most of us are taught to set goals.

SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound.

There is absolutely merit to this way of thinking – I am sure it works for some, and if it’s rocking your world, stick with it by all means.

This article is not about arguing what the “right way” is – my intention is to point out a few things and let YOU decide what’s best for your circumstances.

I want to share a different perspective so we can discern when setting SMART goals may be causing us to negate our bigger picture. How its approach may create a point of view that blinds us from dreaming big and being gutsy.

If you are nodding your head in agreement that you are often stumped by this goal-setting thing, and find it to be constrictive, here is a different way to look at it from the “dream big, be gusty” angle.

Is Being “Specific and Measurable” Diverting Our Attention?

If you are familiar with the Desire Map, then you understand why you want to focus on how you want to feel and do things to create that feeling, instead of getting the “thing” that you think may generate the feeling.

I am all about “feeling it” because our soul and intuition communicate with us through our emotions. But getting down and dirty to our core and in touch with our deepest desires and feelings can be scary.

Hiding behind the numbers or the “tangible” (aka, “specific”) stuff can be a convenient way to divert our attention so we don’t have to face what truly matters to us on a deeper level.

When we put “numbers” down, it creates a bias toward using the “logical mind” and mutes our intuition. It puts the left brain on overdrive and asks the right brain (where big picture and creativity lie) to take a back seat.

It may help us “get things done” but it may also make us myopic and turn us into taskmasters who has lost sight of what we want to BE about.

Putting a number (or a “tangible” metric) down can make us obsess about the number, instead of staying with the “why” behind setting that number. The “obsession” may get us to do things that are not aligned with “who we are” (or who we want to BE) just so we can hit an arbitrary number.

If you “make” the numbers by doing something not aligned with who you want to be and where you want to go, are you sending yourself down a wrong route, doing busy work that actually takes you further away from your big vision and ultimate goal?

Is Being “Attainable and Realistic” Limiting Our Possibilities?

Flying to the moon was not “realistic” before it became a reality, but we did it anyway.

If everything we do has to be “attainable and realistic” based on our current understanding of what is possible for our circumstances, it’s hard to stretch ourselves and create out-of-the-box breakthroughs.

Staying within the confines of what is “attainable” can become a handy excuse for our ego – which doesn’t like defeat, which fears being vulnerable and criticized – to hide behind so we don’t have to face plant when we declare our big vision.

Is “being realistic” keeping us small? Is “being attainable” drawing a line to keep us in before we start venturing out?

Staying “attainable and realistic” gives us an excuse to not push our limit – it can become a permission slip to stay safe within the boundary of the “known.”

If we want to work with the limitless resourcefulness of our higher selves and the universe, does it make sense to limit ourselves to what is “attainable and realistic” based on what we know and can perceive as available to us at this moment in time?

Is Being “Time-Bound” Limiting Our Flexibility?

With a project management background, I don’t have bones with setting timelines. In fact, I push my clients with somewhat aggressive timelines to kick their butts.

But… what are you putting a timeline on? If it’s a specific task in a project, I am very cool with that. It keeps you on your toes and actually get shit done.

However, if it’s a timeline for a bigger vision with multiple variables, it may limit your flexibility. When you fixate on the timeline, would it prevent you from exploring options that may take longer but actually be more aligned with your vision?

Having a timeline may make us feel that we are in control, but…

“Control” is an illusion and we know our path unfolds not according to what our ego thinks to be “right.”

OK, I have to make the jump here because it’s a gut thing and I can’t wrap a “logical argument” around this yet:

this illusion of control is actually disempowering us. It diverts our attention to “fixing” things rather than making the best of opportunities that arises, thereby limiting our possibilities.

Soooo… what to do?

You be the judge of when being SMART is indeed smart, and when being SMART is actually limiting your possibilities. I don’t have an answer, and I don’t think there needs to be one.

Set your eyes on who you want to BE and how you want to BE. Own it, step up to it. It should be big, and scary. It may be so big that you have no freaking idea how to go about it.

Then ask, what milestones can you come up with to direct your decisions and actions toward this vision? I think being SMART is great at the milestone level when you have already mapped out the projects that support your big vision.

When you are working toward the milestones, be sure to GUT check and make sure you are being who you want to BE, instead of chasing a number or staying safe, thereby losing sight of the big “why” that drove the creation of the milestones in the first place.

Ling offers Mindset + Marketing coaching at to help Maverick Entrepreneurs nail their Messages, claim their Superpowers and muster the Guts to monetize their Truth so they can build a purpose- and personality-driven business that is a full expression of themselves.

Ling helps her clients supercharge their actions not only through practical strategies and marketing tools, but also through their growth and development – so they not only grow their biz, but also LET THEIR BIZ GROW THEM. Through her “left brain meets right brain” approach, she helps her clients uncover their truth and tap into their intuition, then ground those light bulb moments with practical strategies and marketing tactics.

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