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10 Reasons no one should set SMART goals

SMART goals

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I always tell my students if they ever sit down with a coach who wants to set SMART goals to run for the hills! Why? Because, it is basically the metaphorical equivalent of being transported by a person who is still riding around in a horse and carriage, and has failed to notice it has a broken wheel.

So, what exactly are SMART goals? SMART is an acronym that you can use to guide your goal setting. Its criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives concept. The first known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran.


It should be said here that while SMART is always an acronym – that depending on who you ask, the S-M-A-R-T stands for different things. For instance, originally, the “A” represented the word assignable, and even currently you can find different articles/sources that refer to “R” as relevant, ” T ” as testable, etc… The words may change, but their effectiveness remains stagnant.

10 Reasons for not using SMART goals

1. There is no scientific basis for it. In fact, statistically speaking, the failure rate is as high as not setting any goal at all.

2. SMART goals only work for some personality types. The methodology is designed to attract people who are natural planners and aims to organize those who aren’t. The problem is that the non-planner cannot simply be forced to be a planner. The technique will be met with resistance.

3. Setting SMART goals is an entirely conscious process. It doesn’t factor in the unconscious mind, and it is the unconscious mind that determines whether we procrastinate or not, self-
sabotage, experience fear, etc.

4. The only way a person can reach their goal is if their brain codes the goal both consciously and unconsciously. Any successful person will be able to describe the concept of associating into their goal. They see what they would see, hear what they would hear, and feel what they would feel upon accomplishing their goal.

5. SMART goals fail to evoke an emotion, and even more importantly – a feeling of motivation. Reaching goals is an inherently emotional process.

6. SMART goals don’t give any “meaning” to the goal – the underlying “why”, or what areas in life would benefit from achieving the goal.

7. SMART goals don’t require you to do an ecology check of your life. They don’t take into account that by setting a goal in one area of your life, another area of your life may be negatively impacted. It can be asking for overwhelm, time management issues, burn-out, values conflicts, etc.

8. SMART goals don’t identify any resources someone may already have to reach the goal.

9. The SMART process does not give you alternative ways to reach the goal.

10. SMART doesn’t work with obstacles, challenges, and other limitations.
Perhaps the biggest flaw is that it doesn’t lock down the first step of the goal. The best way to get someone started on reaching a goal is for the momentum of the fist step being completed. I let my clients complete the first task between the goal-set and the next session.

Another reason to not set SMART goals is because there are much better goal setting tools out there – such as, “The NLP Well Formed Outcomes Process”, using NLP timeline work to get a goal, or the WOOP process developed by Gabriella Oettingen.

Let’s put SMART where it belongs — as a part of history.



Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation – Gabriele Oettingen, Ph.D


What is the only scientific way of goal setting?