5 Reasons “SMART” Goals Are Freakin’ Stupid

Every once in while I like to get on my high horse (which often stands atop a soap box) and call it like it is.

For years people have touted the “SMART” goals mantra.  If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym, it states your goals in life should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Sensitive.

The problem is, life is not just black and white — and if you try to take this silly framework into the real world you’re going to be disappointed.

Here’s why (and what to do about it!):

1. Specific

Since when does anyone really know what they want?  Heck, let me ask you right now — what do you want, exactly?

If you’re like 99% of the world’s population you’ll respond with something along the lines of “I don’t know”And that’s OK.

Look, yes, clarity is extremely important — but it’s a process.

You can’t achieve specificity without first knowing what you want.  And most of the time you won’t know what you want until you experience a bit of what you DON’T want.

Saying “I would like to lose 20 pounds” is specific… but is it really what you want?

What if by gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle you would look BETTER than if you lost 20?

Most “SMART” goals simply aren’t set “smartly”.  You see, we often throw out arbitrary numbers just for the sake of being “specific”.

Everyone who wants to lose weight decides 10-15 pounds is the magic number.  Every entrepreneur starting out has the goal of “earning $10,000 per month.”

Where do we get these numbers from?  Did you actually test your BMI (Body Mass Index) to find that 10 pounds would be the exact amount you needed to lose in order to achieve 10% body fat?  Did you add up the expenses of your dream cars, mortgages, entertainment, clothing, retirement and everything else so that it equaled exactly $10,000/month or $120,000 per year?  (did you maybe forget to include taxes? ;-P)

Our job in the beginning is to choose a direction.  And for most of us, that direction is simply up.

Choose a direction first.  Take action.  Specify as you go.

2. Measurable

Here’s one I can almost agree with.  As a businessman and a marketer I know numbers tell the whole story.

By using numbers to hold yourself accountable — you can’t lie about your progress or lack-there-of.

But going back to specificity, what numbers do you measure?  In the beginning you probably won’t know.  Most entrepreneurs measure dollars coming in, but not dollars going out (big mistake).  Most fitness newbies only measure weight and calories (neither of which are correct for most fitness goals).

Having a “measurable” goal is great but it is missing a critical human component.  You see, our entire lives we are only ever trying to change two things: how we behave or how we feel.  And unfortunately those doesn’t really have any numbers associated with them.

Do you FEEL sexier at 150 pounds versus 151?  Do you FEEL more successful at $10,000 per month versus $9,900?

Sure, you should have ways of tracking your progress but goals need fuel behind them — and that fuel is EMOTION.

If you’re going to measure your goals — be sure to do so while fueling them with emotion.

3. Attainable

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The truth is our everyday goals are extremely modest.

Most of us aren’t trying to develop interstellar space travel or create artificial intelligence… Most of us just want to lose a couple pounds or earn a little extra money or have more fulfilling relationships… are these things attainable?  OF COURSE!

We’ve put a freaking man on the moon!  We’ve populated mars entirely with robots!  Surely you can stop eating Krispy Kremes for a week and take your kids to the movies.

“Attainable” shouldn’t even be in your vocabulary because anything you’re thinking of right now has already been done by someone else — in fact thousands — if not millions of other people.

Stop wondering if something is attainable.  It is.

4. Realistic

We all know WHAT people are capable of is absolutely incredible…  what they WILL do is usually disappointing but that’s no reason to say that someone should “be more realistic”.

berealsiticI HATE that word.

Who is anyone to tell anyone else what they can and can’t do?

No one bats an eye if you want to go to a university for four years paying $40,000 per year ($160,000 total) to get a job that pays you $28,000 — but the moment you mention you want to start a business selling Paint Brush Covers or becoming a top player in the men’s fashion world with those amazing Carlo Franco Ties or to become a top “motivational speaker” like Stephen Hilgart people tell you you’re nuts and you ought to be “more realistic”.

Look, you can live in what the rest of the world thinks is “reality” while the rest of us live out our dreams.

Just like the insanely unrealistic guy who went without health insurance for 6 months while he got the business off the ground or the insanely unrealistic mom of 4 who goes to the gym every morning at 5am to achieve the body she truly deserves.

You can sit down, shut up, do as your told — or you can be one of us — the insane people who are “unrealistic” because we went for our dreams.

Be unrealistic.

5. Time-Sensitive

There’s nothing like failing to hit a ridiculous deadline to make us feel miserable.

Listen, your goals should be time-sensitive.  There should be milestones to hit.  But most of us are so hard on ourselves we expect to be millionaires with six packs overnight.

There’s this thing called lag time — the time in between setting the goal and achieving it.

The real benefit of a goal is not in the achieving — but the becoming.  It’s not really about the money or the body or the relationship (although those things are nice), it’s about who you become along the way.

The problems come in when we compare ourselves to others.  We see an “overnight success” and get frustrated when we don’t achieve astronomical abs in only 6 minutes a week.  No one became an overnight success.  They spent years becoming who they needed to be in order for everything to come together.  We often don’t see the blood, sweat, and tears that go into lag time and mistakenly wonder why “we’re the only ones”.

Stop being so hard on yourself.  I’m sure you have big dreams and goals.  But if it didn’t take time and effort to achieve it — it wouldn’t be worth it.

Set milestones for when you’d like to achieve things — but avoid hard deadlines (especially “unrealistic” ones — HA!!)


I’ll jump off my high-soap-box-horse now but I’d like to hear from you.

Do you agree?  Disagree?  When have these “SMART” goals failed you in the real world?  When have they succeeded?

Do you have any tricks for “setting goals”?  How do they work for you?

I’m really curious about your thoughts!


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Hey, I'm Stephen. I believe that we are in control of our destiny and we can choose to create the life of our dreams. As the National Trainer for Tony Robbins I advise and consult with Fortune 500 companies, executives, managers and professionals in the areas of peak performance, leadership, organizational behavior, psychology of achievement, and sales.

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