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Can We Move Past S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

Feb 14, 2016

Written by: BIW Reward Systems Dept.
(View Author Bio)

It's time to rethink your goal setting strategy. 

Today I saw my 4,213,009th blog post on the value of using S.M.A.R.T. goals to help you achieve your greatest desires. This is so 1986. Can we move on from that to something that works better?

It’s not that S.M.A.R.T. goals don’t work, it’s just that they’re not the whole story. What’s missing are three key elements: meaning, perceived attainability and commitment. Without these three elements, S.M.A.R.T. goals are as relevant as Palm Pilots.


If the goal that I’ve “chosen” doesn’t mean so much to me that failure will have no effect, then it’s not meaningful enough. The goal I choose must be so important, so meaningful, that failure to reach it will be a terrible thing in my life. My goal must represent what I want at such a high degree that I really can’t bear living without it. If losing 5 pounds by Valentine’s Day is a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have, there’s a very high likelihood that I won’t make it. I have to really want it.

Perceived Attainability

Oftentimes sales managers encourage their people to take on monumental goals, massive goals, horrendous goals, breathtakingly ambitious goals, because (in their words), “Only great goals get achieved.” Yes and no. Yes —our research confirms the higher the stretch, the more likely it is to be achieved; however, at the outset of the goal setting moment, I need to be able to look the goal in the eye and say, “Yes, I think you are attainable.” I grew up on a horse and didn’t see a basketball until I was in college. For me to set a goal that I’ll be able to jump like Kevin Garnett is simply unobtainable. The goal must be perceived as attainable.


Commitment is a wonderful thing. When we actually commit to something, our brains automatically engage the planning function. At the moment we engage at the level of commitment, we start asking the questions about how I should and what if this happens and the sorts of issues that lead to a plan. They say that failing to plan is planning to fail and when it comes to setting goals, they’re right. Don’t leave home without a plan.

So let’s move into the current millennium with the current data and research on what really works with goal setting: make sure those S.M.A.R.T. goals are accompanied by meaning, perceived attainability and commitment.

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