Setting SMART goals is not the key to success. Although just about every productivity expert, website, and leadership author touts SMART goals as the secret to achievement, they might have it wrong. Today, I’m going to talk about why SMART goals aren’t the key to success, and what to focus on instead.

SMART goals aren’t the key to success: Introduction

Look, I get why people think SMART goals are so important.  We’ve heard for years that setting SMART goals is essential to achieving whatever you want in life.  It’s hard to land on a website about business growth, productivity, or high performance that doesn’t mention SMART goals.  SMART goal-setting has become ingrained in our culture. While it’s a useful framework and a helpful process, it’s not the secret to success.

Here’s the problem

If setting SMART goals were the key to success, then every SMART goal that was ever set would be achieved, right?

Have you ever set a SMART goal that you didn’t follow through with?  I know I have.

So, clearly, simply setting a SMART goal isn’t the key to success.

If you continue to focus on setting SMART goals in order to be successful, there’s a good chance you’ll struggle to achieve them.  You might even think there’s something wrong with you because you’re setting SMART goals like all the experts say, but you’re failing to achieve them.

I’m not saying here that goal-setting isn’t important.  Nor am I saying that the SMART goal framework isn’t a valuable tool to help you set goals effectively.  However, setting a SMART goal is kind of like plugging a destination into your navigation app.  It tells you where you want to go, but plugging in that destination does not equal success.  You still have to do the work to get there.

What to do

Setting a SMART goal is like turning on the ignition in a car.  It’s a good first step, but it isn’t going to get you where you want to go. Isn’t it more important to focus on persevering toward the goal than simply setting it? If setting SMART goals isn’t the key to success, then what is?  Navigating and managing your thoughts and emotions – your mindset.

Think back to a time when you set a goal in the past but didn’t achieve it.  Was it because the goal you set wasn’t a good enough goal?  Probably not.  In fact, there’s a good chance it was a SMART goal.  Chances are, factors like:

  • overwhelm,
  • fear of failure,
  • self-doubt,
  • perfectionism,
  • low motivation,
  • distraction,
  • confusion, or even
  • fear of success

…stopped you.  Those are all mindset issues that even the best SMART goal is powerless to defeat.

So, what can you do to manage your mindset?

Practice awareness

First, it’s important to just be aware of the thoughts and emotions that are coming up for you on a day-to-day basis.

Thoughts cause our feelings, and our feelings are the driver behind everything we do or don’t do.  So the decision to keep working on a goal or to walk away from it altogether is going to be fueled by your thoughts and feelings.  Therefore, it behooves you to notice what’s automatically happening in your mindset.

Recognize roadblocks

Next, it’s important to recognize your own mental and emotional roadblocks.  Are you feeling overwhelmed?  Are you struggling with motivation?  Do you have limiting beliefs that are causing you to self-sabotage and not make progress toward your goal?

For some people, there is a big struggle with the SMART goal itself.  A decent number of people feel nervous and stressed out when they think about the T – “time limited” – aspect of setting a SMART goal.  They might feel intimidated, rushed, or overwhelmed at the thought of expecting themselves to get something done by a certain date.  That’s certainly a mindset issue, and not anything that setting a SMART goal will help you overcome!

Navigate and overcome

Finally, it’s important to do the work to navigate and overcome those mental and emotional roadblocks.

Mental and emotional (mindset)roadblocks are probably a big chunk of what’s standing between you and success.  A SMART goal may point you in the right direction, but managing your thoughts and feelings is what will keep you moving forward.  If you rely on setting the goal as your fuel for achieving it, there’s a great chance you’ll end up getting stuck or giving up due to factors like overwhelm, stress, fear of failure, confusion, self-doubt, distraction, or low motivation.

SMART goals aren’t the key to success: Conclusion

I’m not saying here that SMART goal-setting isn’t a valuable or helpful process. Rather, I’m saying that they might not be the key to success that they’re hyped up to be. Like I said earlier, there’s a ton of emphasis placed on goal-setting. Isn’t it more important to shift the bulk of that emphasis over to goal-getting?

So, let me ask you:  Do you want to keep focusing on setting SMART goals, only to stall out on achieving them?  Or would you rather shift your focus from setting goals to managing your mindset so you can achieve them?

If you’re ready to start making meaningful progress toward your SMART goals, schedule a free productivity power session with me.  Together, we’ll identify the mental and emotional roadblocks that are standing between you and your goals, and develop a plan to overcome them.

About the Author Amy Schield

Amy Schield, MBA is a time management and productivity coach for small business owners. Using a mix of simple tactics and neuroscience-based strategies, she helps clients manage their time successfully, set and achieve goals for business growth, and navigate the mental and emotional side of owning and running a small business. Acting as a personal trainer for the brain, she teaches clients how to get out of their own way, so they can finally build the business they want.

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