How to set better goals: Adding humanity to SMART goals

How To Set Better Goals: Adding Humanity To SMART Goals

Goal~setting is important in driving us forwards, motivating us with solid targets to aim for. But how often does it really work out? And how much more often do we procrastinate and make excuses?

You may have heard of SMART Goals as a useful framework for setting goals. But sometimes its just not that simple to achieve as you set out to, no matter how SMART your plans are.

In this post I’ll be teaching you how to set better goals with my new and improved SMART ARSE criteria which add human perspective back into traditional goal~setting.

Why is Goal-Setting so Important?

There are several reasons why its important for us to set goals in our lives, business, careers…

First and foremost, having defined goals gives us direction through specified targets we’re aiming towards. Just as knowing where we end up enables us to plan our journey, setting goals allows us to consider the steps we need to take in order to achieve them and make our hopes a reality.

Setting goals defines our focus point, concentrating our efforts on what we aspire towards. This focus motivates us to make progress, as we are able to imagine where we want to go and how it is possible to get there.

With clarity and motivation in mind, we are able to develop specific behaviours and strategies, allocate resources and prioritise efficiently.

Goals act as targeted benchmarks, meaning progress can be measured along the way by comparing current state to final destination. This helps us to be more self~aware of when we are NOT on track, helping to prevent inefficiency, wastefulness, procrastination and distraction. 

Setting goals encourages a positive outlook, as they are essentially a more strategic version of hope. Goal~setting transforms day dreams into plans, and optimism into action.

Achievement of goals, or the individual steps along the way, solidifies this positivity by proving to us that we have the strengths and abilities to move forwards in our planned direction. 

Think of the satisfaction as you check off your daily to~do list; it reminds you of what you CAN do and encourages you to aim bigger and better.

What are SMART Goals?

Of course, not all goals have the same potential.

Setting weak or poorly defined goals does not provide the same sense of direction and motivation as those which are clearer and easily measured.

During the 1960s, people began to research goal~setting, and how its practice could be optimised to fulfil its potential benefits as described above.

In 1981, George T. Doran coined the term ‘SMART goals’, which has gone on to become the dominant criteria for setting goals which could be successfully achieved.

In Doran’s original framework, the S.M.A.R.T acronym stood for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time~related.

By this framework, achievable goals had to be clear and quantifiable. Responsibility for goal fulfilment had to be easy to assign to specific individuals or groups. And of course, goals had to be realistic within a defined time~frame.

This initial acronym has seen several variations. Most commonly, ‘assignable’ is swapped out for ‘attainable’ or ‘achievable’ ~ essentially replacing the original ‘R’ which was then swapped to a call for ‘Relevance’.

The principle of relevancy demands that goals are set which are aligned with the purpose of the goal~setting individual or organisation.

For example, a business COULD set the goal of breaking into a global market, but if their organisation’s purpose was to serve their local community then this goal would not be relevant.

So, the now commonly accepted S.M.A.R.T acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable/Attainable, Relevant and Time~Bound.

The SMART goal framework has been extremely popular in serving as simple criteria which ensure that organisations and individuals avoid vague, meaningless goals which are impossible to structure, provide little inspiration and are unlikely to be achieved.

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When SMART Goals Don’t Work

Despite the popularity of the framework, there is, as with anything, criticism of SMART goals.

SMART goals were initially created as a tool for organisations to help them set what were mostly corporate goals. The criteria was to be used by directors and managers in defining comprehensive strategy to unify and instruct employees.

This means they left little room for creativity or innovation, as their purpose was to keep everyone firmly to the line.

SMART goals are formal, practical and inflexible. While a ‘by the book’ approach is useful for large, systemic, faceless institutions ~ it can be difficult to reconcile with the dreams and aspirations of individuals, small companies, or solo entrepreneurs.

Creativity risks being limited by the task~oriented nature of the SMART goals framework, which can cause goals to be uninspiring, boring and repetitive. This makes it hard to find the real motivation needed to truly dedicate oneself to their successful achievement.

SMART goals also fail to account for natural inconsistencies in life. If 2020 has shown us anything, its that the world can be unpredictable, and even the smartest strategy can be overturned by unforeseeable disruption.

Sometimes our greatest success comes from blind faith that something will work out, imaginative dreams without historically proven pathways or, of course, desperate escapes from unexpected setbacks. The SMART Goals framework leaves no space for these victories.

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How to Set Better Goals:

Introducing The SMART ARSE Framework

The pattern in SMART Goal criticism seems fairly clear to me. Simply put, the SMART framework lacks consideration of the PEOPLE behind the goals.

No wonder so many of us struggle with distraction, procrastination and excuses. We are, after all, human beings ~ so how can we expect to achieve goals set by a criteria which lacks any humanity?

I’ve devised an updated version of the SMART Goal framework, which I’ve creatively named ‘SMART ARSE Goals’. These are the criteria I consider when setting my own goals, and I must say that by adding a little human perspective, I’ve been able to set and achieve value~aligned goals for myself and my business.

Without further ado, let me explain how the SMART ARSE criteria works to help you to set better goals and better manage your potential to succeed in achieving them.

We start with the original SMART framework. As described above, its important for your goals to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time~bound.

Then the creativity ramps up, and we add a few extra criteria to embrace our human selves, human lives and human ambition behind our goals.

A.R.S.E. stands for Accountable, Rewarded, Sympathetic and Emotional. What follows is a further explanation of each.

Accountable: Often, we are driven to act by a sense of obligation. Whether that be duty to ourselves, our loved ones, those we look up to, our customers or the  communities we identify with. To maximise our motivation and improve our chances of achieving our goals, its important to find a way to hold ourselves accountable.

Try telling someone you’d hate to disappoint, making a publicly announced commitment, or simply writing your goals down in a notebook you can’t stand the thought of spoiling.

Rewarded: As humans, we thrive on praise and reward. For centuries, reward has been used to encourage positive socialisation, educational learning and dedicated hard work. Saving the money we would previously have spent on a bad habit has been a traditional motivator to make big changes. Essentially, we’re accustomed to receiving returns on our efforts, and without it we often feel hard done by.

This applies to the goals you set yourself as well. While it may seem childish or self~indulgent to award yourself for your work, it serves as positive reinforcement for putting the effort in and motivates you to do so again and again.

With each goal you set yourself, try and plan how you will reward yourself and celebrate its achievement. Perhaps treating yourself to a new book, a few drinks on a Tuesday evening, or (if you’re one of those people), a nice long bath.

You could even rope someone else in and tie this together with your accountability, for example by telling your partner when you hope to achieve your goal by and demanding they cook you your favourite meal if (when) you succeed.

Sympathetic: I think we can all agree that sometimes, life just doesn’t go as planned. The unexpected happens, the obligations pile up, and setbacks occur. While I don’t condone making mindless excuses (the dog did not eat your homework…), there ARE sometimes very good reasons why you might lose progress on your goals.

Pressure and perfectionism can turn goal~setting into an extremely negative and damaging practice. Beating yourself up for slips and setbacks can simply demotivate you to overcome obstacles or try again in the future. In worse cases, it can be extremely destructive to your mental wellbeing, with the potential of major consequences for any plans let alone specific goals.

This is why I believe its important that goals be sympathetic. Where possible, you should consider adding a buffer to the deadlines you set yourself, and ensure you take time to process and heal any setbacks. Assess the risks to your goals’ success, what could get in your way and how will you manage it? Build a support network who are on board with your goals, but willing to hold you up and keep you motivated when things get tough. 

Emotional: Last but certainly not least, any goal you set yourself must be emotional.

By this I mean that you have to be able to connect and resonate with your goals. You have to truly know WHY you wish to achieve them. 

Goals based on what you feel you SHOULD be doing, or what you see those around you accomplishing, will never motivate you in the same way as those targets you’re intensely drawn to. What are YOUR dreams? What is YOUR purpose? 

Goals without vision are simply observations of what could be. Goals without emotional reasoning are simply chores.

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Well, thats my personal criteria for how to set better goals by going beyond SMART Goals and achieving success with SMART ARSE Goals. 

I hope its been helpful, but do play around and come up with your own alterations. Finding a framework that works for you will allow you to systemise your goal~setting and form the strategic direction for a journey you’ll actually take. What does the other side look like to you?

As per usual, I’d love to hear any feedback on this post. Do let me know in the comments below if you think of any alterations my SMART ARSE framework, particularly if you can manipulate them into a fun acronym!

2 thoughts on “How To Set Better Goals: Adding Humanity To SMART Goals”

  1. Goal setting is such an important function and so often done very poorly. Our city decided after the last election to set a goal of increasing our population by 10,000 people. That’s a huge goal to achieve in four years for a city of 51,000 people. The real problem of this goal was that there was no specific reason given why. It was specific, it was measurable, very likely not attainable, totally irrelevant, but it was timebound. Of course it is not going to be achieved. The community was never behind this because the politicians never answered the why. If they truly wanted to increase our population, they should have set meaningful goals to achieve it. Things like taking actions to ensure new immigrants settling here felt welcomed and part of the community. Our multicultural centre has confirmed that immigrants leave our community not because of employment, housing or amenities. They leave because they never make the connections in our community. They often don’t feel welcome.
    Setting truly meaningful goals and genuinely understanding why you are setting a particular goal greatly improves your chances of success.

    Thanks for your very thoughtful assessment on how to set goals.

    1. Wow, what a story – thank you for sharing! That certainly does show how problematic it can be to set goals purely for the sake of it. You’re very welcome, I’m glad it proved thought-provoking!

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