Goal Setting: Why Smart Goals Are Stupid, and How To Set Inspiring Goals

by Dan Johnston

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Have you heard this concept of setting “SMART” goals before?

Specific
Measurable
A…I can’t remember
Realistic
Timely

So according to the theory a stupid goal would be like “I want to make more money”. A smart goal would be “I want to make 11% more money over the next 3 months based on cash received into my bank”.

Alright, I will admit, a smart goal is better than a vague, ambiguous goal any day.

But here is why I hate them. These goals work great for T and J types (for my Myers Briggs fans), or rather, accountants, managers, and business school types. I think they’re horrible for directing your life, and for emotionally driven entrepreneurs.

Here’s why.

  1. Smart goals tend to be way too boring to be motivating. I’m not going to change a thing about my life to increase my profits by 11%. I think too big, and too short term.
  2. The general smart goals system implies you make a lot of little goals to cover all areas of your life. I’ve found this isn’t manageable if any of the changes you want to make are big, or if your life just has a lot of moving parts.

Here is what I found works A LOT better for me and other crazy people like me.

How To Set Inspiring Goals

For things you want to stop doing:

Make a public declaration and a firm commitment. Attach a punishment you’d never want to face.

I quit drinking for 18 months with this strategy by declaring on Facebook that if I drank a sip of Alcohol I would move back to the suburbs and live with my parents. Once I did that it was pretty easy to keep to my word.

The idea here is to block off the alternative for your mind so you aren’t constantly tempted…otherwise there will be a night where you’re tired and willpower fades and you fail.

I’m deathly allergic to peanuts…and guess what…I’ve never decided to eat a bucket of peanut butter no matter how many times people tell me it is delicious or how tired I am.

Saying you are “trying” anything tells people you aren’t serious and activates their desire to see you fail so they don’t feel so bad about their own lack of willpower. It is the difference between saying “I’m trying to not drink for a while” versus “No thank you, I don’t drink”. The later has the added benefit of people thinking you’re a recovering alcoholic, allergic, religious etc and they usually won’t push you.

If you take this approach to stop doing anything expect to go through a 1-8 week phase where your friends and family test you. If you pass this phase and prove you’re serious you will start to inspire them and they will actually stop you from screwing up. I had friends cut off the waitress all the time “Oh no, he doesn’t drink”. By this point I would have felt terrible if I let them down and had a beer.

What About For Positive Goals, When You Want To Do Something Or Be Something More?

For things you want to do more of, or just general positive goals, I often use one of the follow two approaches:

Goal Setting Approach Number One

Set yourself an overall direction and a question, or set of questions, that will allow you to keep moving in that direction.

For example, in 2012 I set the following two goals for the year:

-> Have a ton of fun

And

-> Make more money than I spend

That was it. Any time I was faced with a tough decision on whether I should do something the decision was pretty easy.

“Will this be fun?”

If yes, do I have the money to do it?

If yes, I do it.

If no, can I earn the money before the event/trip?

If yes, I earn it. If no, I don’t do it.

Here’s another great tip. Commit to your general direction, whether it is to be healthier, start a business, travel more etc. Then whenever you are making a decision just ask yourself “Will this make me healthier, or hurt me?”

“Will this help me travel more?”

“Will this move me towards my own business?”

Yes, sometimes you’ll develop Einstein level logical arguments to eat the cheesecake at 2am, but more times than not asking this question will turn your “human” brain back on and activate the part that handles growth and long term thinking…temporarily shutting down the hungry, horny, angry lizard brain that hangs out in all of us. With your higher brain turned back on you’ll be able to make better decisions.

Goal Setting Approach Number Two

When you’re in a great state of mind, well rested, feeling positive and oh so courageous, decide on what you want. Then take an action that holds you to the goal. Book a flight, send a “I hate you and have been sleeping with your friends” breakup text message, leave a drunken message calling your boss an asshole…that kind of thing.

Alright, there are much smarter ways to do this. If you want to quit your job you can try this approach to quitting your job. If you want to start a new business, read How I went from a barback to copywriter in just 72 hours.

But if the choice is between a drunken message and no action, I still say tell your boss how you feel.

Also, stop sleeping with all your boyfriend’s friends…and dating people you hate.

That’s all I’ve got for today. Now I want to ask you, what have I missed?

– By Dan Johnston

Is there a strategy you use to set and achieve your goals? Share it in a comment below!

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