What you will learn:
Why SMART goals work
Why SMART goals don’t work
Why process trumps SMART goals every time
Regardless of whether you’re trying to change your health for the better, lose weight, run faster, jump higher, or get yourself free of aches and pains, you’ve most like read or been told that you have to have goals.
You have to have a destination before you start a trip otherwise your efforts will be random, and you’ll land just about anywhere. This is fine if you don’t care where you are. Most of us do.
The SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for goal-setting tends to include the concept of SMART goals.
If you’ve been living in the woods for the past 30 years of self-improvement literature SMART is an acronym.
This is really cute. Some of the best motivational speakers and the literature they provide promote this with such enthusiasm that one can’t help but rush to the office supply store (one of my favorite places in the whole world) and get a fresh, new journal to begin writing down your SMART goals.
I suppose for some, this makes a lot of sense and may even work once in a great while. Some outcomes in life fit this concept well.
For instance, if my goal is to graduate from my university with a psychology degree in just four years. Then this SMART thingy is a useful strategy.
The chances of me continuing to pursue my graduation goal AFTER I graduate is slim to none. This kind of a goal can lead to much happiness.
It also typically leads to much unhappiness.
Consider the fact that you’ve just put forth a tremendous amount of time and energy toward achieving your educational goal of graduating with your degree, and you get it. Now what.
Say your SMART goals is to lose 20 pounds of body fat in two months.
Clearly, if you make an effort and don’t quite make it to a 20 pound loss, you’ll be unhappy. Maybe your consolation prize is that you did lose 15 pounds, but because you’d set the goal at 20, you’re still unhappy if you’re being honest with yourself.
If you do happen to lose 20 pounds by your target date, you’ll still be unhappy. It’s not like you can go back to a daily dose of bacon-infused ice cream sandwiches dunked in caramel (Note to self: give this one a try). SMART goals for weight loss are a sure fire way to experience the rebound weight gain associated with such a strategy.
Certainly, in both cases, you can regroup and set a new SMART goal and off you go on the next path to success, but you shouldn’t discount that you’ll most likely be unhappy at the end. Again.
Processes Trump SMART Goals Every Time
I want to be happy.
I want you to be happy too.
If SMART goals make you unhappy, perhaps it would be better to focus on DUMB processes.
DUMB processes are not really goals at all.
They’re just things that you do. They are just part of a never-ending process.
If you’d like a cutesy acronym to remember your DUMB processes, try this one:
What if we looked at education from a different perspective than the one above. The SMART goal has an end that leads to unhappiness. What if instead of looking at the degree or graduation as a marker, what if we decided that we wanted to know everything there was about psychology?
It would take a lifetime and more to do that.
Now your quest is about learning, understanding, and discovery.
When it comes to education, nothing is more rewarding than learning some thing new, making a new connection between bits of information, and gaining a deeper understanding.
What if I made this part of my day every day?
Happiness. Every day.
Passion, motivation, energy, and interest waxes and wanes.
We can count on it for short periods of time, but we don’t have absolute control over any it.
The only thing we ever have control over is our reasoned choices.
Humans make decisions based on emotions, so whenever we can execute without the influence of out emotions taking over, we tend to be much more successful.
Every day we do things without much emotional investment as part of a process. For instance, you want healthy teeth, so you brush and floss or whatever you do to promote dental health. That’s a process. It’s just stuff that you do. Brushing twice a day and after meals tends to be more successful than brushing your teeth ten times a day for a month just prior to your next dental appointment.
You most likely brush your teeth at about the same time every day. It’s scheduled. Maybe not formally, but it is.
You feed your pets or your kids at about the same time every day.
You put on clothes and go to work about the same time every day.
If your goal is to be healthier, leaner, in better shape, or however you define your intent, exercise tends to be an important part of the process. Therefore it should simply be part of your typical day. No emotion required. Just show up and do.
You have no control over whether you’ll get a good night’s sleep.
You have no control over your health.
You have no control over your weight loss.
You have no control over your significant other’s happiness.
However, you do have control over your choices. Your choices are behaviors.
You do control when you go to bed and when you wake up.
Controlling bed and wake times makes it more likely that you’ll get better sleep on a regular basis.
You do control what you eat and when you exercise.
Doing so makes it more likely that you’ll be leaner, healthier, and more energetic for a lifetime.
You do control what you say and do to let your significant other know that you love them.
Nothing feels better than the confidence that you have someone to count on and your love is returned.
SMART goals are useful. By all means set them. They allow us to mark progress and change. They provide brief rewards like a trophy.
However, when it comes to happiness, I’ll stay DUMB.