Why SMART goals don’t always work

There are a plethora of articles written on goal setting and how we can best frame our objectives for success, but despite our best planning and intentions, many of our goals continue to roll from year to year. Why is that?

The most widely used goal setting tool is SMART. Writing our goals in Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound statements gives us direction, focus and defined outcomes to strive for. What this model is missing is the passion that makes us want to leap out of bed in the morning and work towards those goals. When we come up against external blocks or internal resistance, what is it that we really care about in these goals is that going to keep us motivated enough to persevere?

Achievable and Realistic are quite similar in philosophy. I would encourage you instead to rename the A in SMART as Attractive. Is this goal something I should do or something that I really want to do? How badly do I want this? Is this goal important enough to me that I am prepared to prioritise my time and resources towards its achievement at the expense of competing demands?

If your answer to these questions isn’t a resounding YES, it may be helpful to ask yourself some clarifying questions about your motivation. How many of us have set ourselves weight loss or fitness goals that we keep recycling year after year? A punishing goal of ‘No alcohol or sugar for the next month’ doesn’t really engender enthusiasm. Reframing your goal into a benefit statement such as ‘a slimmer me brimming with energy by eating beautiful green leafy vegetables’ is more motivating.

Also, check for blocks to your motivation. Losing 5 kilograms in 5 months, for example, can feel overwhelming. Why bother starting? Lose 1 kilogram per month is sounding more manageable, but 250 grams per week feels even easier. Chunk your goals down into bite-sized, achievable pieces.

Reward yourself for small wins along the way. Motivation to achieve small wins builds momentum that increases your capability and capacity to tackle bigger goals and aspirations. Share your goal with friends, colleagues or family. Enlist their support in helping you keep on track.

And finally, I would encourage you to just start. There is never a perfect time to start, but the best time to start is right now!