5 Reasons Smart Goals Might Be Dumb

White chalk line marking yard line in grass

‘Tis the season of resolutions and setting goals for the year ahead. Anyone who knows me will tell you I won’t be partaking in either.

I think my distaste for goals began when I was fresh out of university and entered the corporate world. Time didn’t exist much beyond next week and which assignments were due. Mid-terms, let alone finals were some distant mark on a calendar. Suddenly I was launched into the realm of carving in stone committing to paper the accomplishments I would have 12 months from now.

I willingly admit to how quickly I became accustomed to extended time horizons. There were years when even a year wasn’t long enough to plan properly given how fast they zipped by.

But I never warmed up to the idea of being ultra-specific about what I would achieve. Especially when new projects became in-addition-to rather than in-replace-of.


Don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for dreaming and moving forward. Or even getting specific when the need arises. But from where I sit, setting goals, SMART or otherwise, can keep you from where you want to go too. Here are five reasons why:

Reason #5 – End Game: Goals are endpoints in time. By living from one goal to the next goal your life becomes episodic rather than flowing. You focus all your attention and energy ensuring you succeed in arriving somewhere. Suddenly you’re right back at the beginning asking “now what?” But unlike a football game, your new goal is not to reach the same goal again.

Reason #4 – Forcing Time: Facing a deadline is a sure way to come up with a solution, but not necessarily the desired solution. Some things just need time to percolate and to allow inspiration through. Forcing time is akin to pushing rope.

Reason #3 – In The Way: We are our own best saboteurs. And very sly ones at that. One of the most effective techniques we use against ourselves is the concept of control. We convince ourselves we know best when really we forge ahead to ease the uncomfortableness of energy building inside. Doing something is better than nothing, until we discover we just created a bigger mess to clean up.

Reason #2 – Safety Net: There’s a subtle, but important difference between playing to win and playing not to lose. When you shoot for what you can achieve you can only set goals as big as you can imagine. Period. Even when you dream big, what is possible is far beyond what you can imagine right now. You have to be willing to let go of what you think you know in order to find what can be.

Reason #1 – Blind Spots: If you’ve ever overlooked the mustard bottle in the fridge, a kettle in the cupboard, or a gorilla playing basketball, you know all too well the power of your mind. You don’t see what is right in front of you because you are focused on what is right in front of you. You miss what you don’t expect, even when you expect the unexpected. The mind’s incredible ability to focus is also a great liability. When you’re looking for something to show up in a particular way, especially for measurement, you shut yourself out to all the other forms or places results can appear.


Intentions, on the other hand, take the conversation in a different direction.


Be Further Ahead Forgetting Goals - Infographic

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Lorraine Watson - on rustic porch

chief nudging officer


Crazy for cats and potatoes, Lorraine's insatiable curiosity of Life leads her to question, explore and push beyond the box. A self-professed "left-brained creative big picture" type, she has an intuitive knack for seeing beyond and beneath first appearances while at the same time nerding out on the details. Most of all she sees and holds others in their highest until they can see it for themselves.

1 Comment

  1. Lorraine on February 17, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    Speaking of blind spots and gorillas, I’m not sure if the results of this study are scary or reassuring:

    Radiologists were asked to look at five lung CT scans, each which contained about 10 nodules or abnormalities. They were asked to click on anything strange on the scans. On the final scan, a gorilla about 48 times the size of an average nodule was placed in the upper right hand quadrant.

    The expert radiologists were able to find the correct nodules 55 percent of the time. However, 20 out of the 24 radiologists admitted they were unable to see the gorilla even though they scrolled past it an average of 4.3 times. Researchers also determined by eye-tracking that radiologists spent 5.8 seconds looking at the scan with the gorilla, and out of the 20 radiologists who did not see the gorilla, 12 had looked directly at it.

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