SmartER Goals

You’ve all heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals, right?

S for Specific
M for Measurable
A for Actionable
R for Reasonable, and
T for Time-oriented

S.M.A.R.T. goals are good because they are narrowly defined and constrained and are not too whacky or out there. They are, by intention, reasonable and measured and, well, smart, for want of a better word. You set the target. Take aim. And fire! And more times than not, you hit the target.

This is good.

I’ve tried it myself, and it works!


I set myself the goal of taking vitamins every day, and I do.

I set myself the goal of walking three miles every morning, and I do.

I set myself the goal of writing 3 pages in my journal every morning, and I do.

Okay, so what’s the problem?

Well, these are not very challenging goals. So I walk every morning–big whup! I’m not really putting myself out there, taking a risk. Walking is safe, it’s mundane, it’s, well, “reasonable.”

And therein lies the rub.

You see, “reasonable” is all well and good, but it’s also well within our comfort zone. And, let’s be real, the comfort zone is not the best soil for growth. Growth, especially personal growth, demands challenge, some sort of adversity, a problem, a stretch. What’s called for lies in a zone just beyond our reach.

Us education wonks call this the Zone of Proximal Development, or ZOPED. First coined by the educational theorist Lev Vygotsky, ZOPED is the distance between a student’s actual developmental level and potential developmental level–the area where growth occurs.


Take, for example, my (bogus) goal of walking three miles every morning. This is well within my reach. I can walk three miles a day in my sleep, (with a donut in each hand, I might add!), so this is not a huge stretch. It would be like saying, I am going to take aim, fire this rifle and hit . . . air.

A reasonable goal, most would agree, but, in actuality, no goal at all.

It’s also not terribly exciting.

I take a vitamin every day – yay.

This is not the stuff of dreams, not a cause to take up arms for. This is safe. This is I-will-not-die. This is welcome-to-the-rest-of-my-sorry-life.

And who can cheer for that goal? Hip hip Hoor . . . Hey, let’s go down to the pub for a pint.

What’s called for, instead, is a S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goal.

One that’s smart, yes, but also one that’s a little Risky, a little Exciting.

Absent a little risk there’s really not much at stake, and when there’s nothing at stake, we can’t be bothered. So risk is good; risk is our friend when it comes to growth.

So is excitement.

How many times have you set yourself a goal, a reasonable goal, only to walk away uninspired, unwilling to take action?

How many vitamins have you forsaken, pages left untouched, for want of a little thrill?

It’s okay, you don’t need to answer.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, it’s true, but what they don’t tell you is that the road to tedium is paved with tiny stones of reasonableness, the kind that pierce your tires and let all the air out.

So S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. Just like S.M.A.R.T. goals, but better.

S for Specific – So this remains. Specific is always good–much better than vague, amorphous, indeterminate goals.
M for Measurable – Also good. Although not every worth goal is measurable, but that’s an argument for another day.
A for Actionable – Yes, definitely! A goal without a corresponding action plan is pretty much like a baseball game without a hot dog. What’s the point?
R for Reasonable – Okay this one has to go. Let’s replace it with Risky, instead.
T for Time-oriented – Fine. After all, a goal without a deadline is just a dream . . . wait, no, that’s not right. Is it a deadline without an action plan is just a nightmare? Or is it a dream without Idris Elba is . . . .

I’ll come back to that later. For now, let’s talk S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals.

I should say, first and foremost, this is not my genius invention–I got it from Michael Hyatt, and have found it to be quite useful.

S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals stand for


This last one is important, too. If your goal is not relevant to your current season of life, ditch it. Twenty years ago, when I was in the throes of building a career, I had many achievement goals–win this, earn that, advance the other. Now, those are irrelevant. So Relevance is an important addition to the acronym (if not the most sexy).

Here’s the thing about S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals: They don’t guarantee perfection. But they do seem to motivate you to stay on track (because they are Exciting) and do stretch you beyond what is easily in your grasp (because they are RISKY), which is why I decided to experiment with a couple myself.

Last summer, for instance, I set myself the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goal of writing 30 blogs in a 10 week period–this was a stretch for me–and I ended up writing 20. So not exactly a bullseye, but definitely a win by all but the strictest measure.

I was pleased with myself. Okay, so I was disappointed at first because I hadn’t met my 30-blog goal, but pleased in the end. After all, 20 blog posts was 20 more than I had prior to that, so what if I didn’t make exactly 30?

In fact, by setting the Risky goal of 30–I had only ever averaged 1 blog post a week until then–I felt compelled to push myself to write multiple times a week, and in so doing, I ended up with a weekly average of two blog posts, instead of my previous one.


It was also Exciting. I looked forward to my writing sessions because it felt like I was going for something I hadn’t achieved before. It felt like growth, not just more of the same.

This year, I have set myself three ambitious (think Everest ambitious) goals for the year, and I’m excited (but also terrified) to be working on them!

I’m not going to tell you what they are. You’ll have to stay tuned until the end of the year to see how I fared.

In the meantime, set some badass goals of your own, and get to work making them happen!

Categories: Reflections

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. In our writing group last night we spoke out two or three goals and wrote them in our community (traveling) journal. Writing intentions down and having six accountability partners is risky but to paraphrase a quote I heard: those who will not risk cannot win.

Leave a Comment