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Five Lame Goal Setting Tips That Are Actually Useless

Watch out for these signs that aren’t as valuable as they seem.

Goal setting has a corporate feel to it. Like you need to be a black belt in Six Sigma in order to partake. That to set goals, you need to show up to your small cubicle in the ’80s and put in your 9-5. That’s the world where SMART goals were born. But today, some 40 years later, the idea of what goal setting should be is highly antiquated.

SMART goals tell you that your pursuit should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. It’s not bad advice. It’s just not good advice. There is something grander at play here. And that’s fulfillment. Goal setting is a tool to help you create a more purposeful life for yourself. One where you get the promotion because you find the work meaningful. Not because you want a shiny new company car.

There are five parts to a SMART goal. Five parts that are only useful when you neglect to consider the bigger picture. When you don’t consider fulfillment. Put in that context, it is clear to see a better way for doing things.


Transcend the scale

Your goal must be specific. That is the advice for the letter S. For example, you don’t just want to get healthier. You specifically want to lose 30 lbs. Here’s the thing though, your specificity lacks one critical factor: control. Looking at that weight loss goal, you have no say over how much weight you lose at a given time. You can influence it, but that’s as far as it goes. And so what inevitably happens is the scale doesn’t move the way you want and you give up.

That doesn’t happen when you focus on control. Set goals within your control and you take the power into your own hands. Instead of saying – I want to lose 30 lbs –  you can set a goal to – run one mile each day or track my calories five days a week or drink a gallon of water at least five days a week. These goals are entirely within your control.

You either do them or you don’t. The weight may not come off as you’d like. However, at the end of the week, you can say you ran seven miles, tracked your calories as promised, and drank five gallons of water. The scale may not show your ideal number, but you can be proud of what you actually accomplished. And knowing you showed up for yourself, you will have the motivation to explore other goals to assist in your journey.

Specific is fine. Control is better.


Set it, don’t forget it

The letter M requires your goal be measurable. That it be quantifiable. Looking at the previous example, that’s where the 30 of lose 30 lbs comes into play. That doesn’t need its own point though. In fact, if you set a goal within your control it should already be taken care of. What’s more important is that you record your goals.

You must write your goals down.

Note what the goal is, why you want to achieve that goal, and the progress you make along the way. Throughout the week, update this doc with any relevant details. For instance, let’s say you have a goal to read two books a month. After you finish your first book, update the progress section with the book you completed.

Measurable is fine. Trackable is better.


In lieu of a second home

Your goal needs to be attainable. That’s what the letter A says at least. Achieving it must be within your realm of possibility. But if you set a goal within your control, you’ve already addressed this point. So rather than worrying if the goal is attainable, instead you should worry about if the goal is going to add something to your life. Namely, fulfillment.

It’d be great to buy a second home. You have the funds for it. But with a second home comes second homeowner problems. Leaks, cracks, water heaters not doing as they should. You have second home bills, HOA’s, and neighborly annoyances. Before you know it, your second home becomes a second job. Or if you already have a second job, a third.

Upon reflection, you realize what you actually love is travel. A second home would allow you that, albeit with complexity. You decide to abandon the home buying goal and instead set a goal to take a week-long trip with your spouse every other month. It’s simple, cheaper, and entirely more fulfilling. Aim your goals in the direction of fulfillment and the impact they make on your life will be all the more meaningful.

Attainable is fine. Fulfilling is better.


A soft touch

Hey look at that, another tip that is resolved by simply setting a goal within your control. Letter R stands for realistic. As in, is your goal realistic? If you set one within your control, it likely already will be. You’ll have a good feeling as to whether or not running 50 miles a day is doable. Instead of worrying if it’s realistic then, give yourself room to be flexible.

Standard goal setting advice says that once your goal is set, there’s no changing it. If you want to change it, you are a quitter.

That’s much too extreme though. Instead, see your goal as a flexible entity. If you set a goal to call your grandma three times a day but that feels like too much, change it. When you hold onto your goals with a rigid hand, you increase your likelihood of crushing it. Not in a good “crushing it” kind of way. More like Lennie with the rabbits. Instead, guide the ship with a loose grip. Make adjustments as needed.

Realistic is fine. Flexible is better.


Where the goal forks

The final letter, T, stands for timely. The consideration here is to determine what timeframe to complete the goal in. The thing is, timeframe doesn’t matter all that much. Pick whatever timeframe feels best, but know you can always change it as you learn more. Remember, realistic is fine. Flexible is better. Instead of concerning yourself with timeframe, focus your attention on the types of goals you set. The two types being habit goals and achievement goals.

A habit goal repeats itself. It desires to become a habit in your life. For instance, read 20 pages a day is a habit goal. Conversely, an achievement goal is a one-time aim. Once it’s over, it’s over. For instance, read one book by the end of the month. A habit goal helps you develop a lifestyle. In the former example, by reading 20 pages a day, you become a reader, someone that reads. An achievement goal doesn’t offer that influence. In the latter example, by reading one book by the end of the month, you are someone that read. Past tense.

Of the ten+ goals I’m working on, the majority by far are habit goals. They have the greatest long-term impact on my life. And because they are fulfillment-based, the more I achieve, the more meaning I experience. Be deliberate about the types of goals you set for yourself.

Timely is fine. Type is better.


Moving forward with better goal setting tips

SMART goals are fine. There are better ways for doing things though. There are more meaningful, purposeful, fulfilling ways to create the life you desire. For your reference once more, those ways are to:

  1. Set goals within your control.
  2. Track them on a regular basis.
  3. Ensure they are fulfillment-focused.
  4. Be flexible – make adjustments as needed.
  5. Be intentional about the types you set.

CTFFT isn’t as catchy as SMART, but if you are serious about attaining goal success, catchy shouldn’t matter.

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