Forget SMART: How to set goals to get what you really want

Setting goals based on your values leads to greater achievement and happiness

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We all love a good acronym. From FOMO to OMG, sometimes it feels so good to simplify. However, this simplification can be detrimental when it comes to how you set goals. Focusing on SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) may not be the smartest way to accomplish your goals.

But wait. You’ve been trained and have checklists on how to set SMART goals. What are you supposed to do now?

Yes, SMART goals are helpful in some instances. For straightforward, outcomes-based goals, like a 5% increase in sales by year-end, the model can be useful. But SMART goals can cause problems when you’re making powerful, positive changes in your life.

A smarter way to set goals

For my leadership coaching clients, setting a lofty, abstract goal is usually more helpful and achievable than a specific, measurable goal. For instance, setting a goal to be a more effective communicator is likely more beneficial than a goal to speak publicly three times over the next six months.

One of my coaching clients, Melissa, found out firsthand the power of setting a lofty, rather than specific, goal. She started coaching with the intention of being promoted within a year. But during our work together, she discovered that getting a promotion without a higher-level, meaningful goal wasn’t going to get her what she really wanted.

The problem with SMART goals for transformational change

If Melissa had stayed with the SMART goal model, she would have felt pressure from the 12-month timeline to achieve a promotion. Her action steps would be for the sake of the promotion – not whether they were good for her or her long-term vision. She also would be working toward an outcome over which she had no control.

There’s nothing more frustrating (and potentially derailing) than putting your heart and soul into a goal you may never achieve due to circumstances out of your control.

The power of values-based goal setting

Research shows that living in alignment with your values leads to greater life satisfaction and emotional well-being. When you set goals based on your values, you’re more likely to achieve them and be happier when you do.

Melissa spent the time to clearly identify her values. She then established an aspirational goal according to what was most important to her: to be an effective leader who has a positive impact on customers and colleagues. From there, she created action steps that moved her toward her goal.

The action steps felt easy for Melissa to do because they leveraged her values of credibility, relationships, and optimism. She was then free to focus on what she really wanted to achieve in her professional life, and she felt good while doing it.

And that promotion? After just three months of establishing her values-based goal, Melissa celebrated her new promotion.

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