Are your goals SMART? Are they really?


“I’m ready to bust through my self-limiting beliefs on this!” said my client with so much enthusiasm that I almost didn’t have the heart to challenge his thinking.


Because that’s my job after all – to challenge thinking. To question what seems like “right answers.” To hold up the mirror of truth so that people can see their reflection more clearly.

So I did.

“Oh you mean the self-limiting belief that you have a weakness in this area, and that you’re not really good at… ?”

“Yes, yes! I’m tired of believing that I can’t be great at this thing. I can, and I will!”

<deep breath… remembering what my job is… and knowing that what I’m about to say is not going to be met with joy… >

“Ok, at what cost?”

“Huh? What do you mean at what cost??” – he was starting to get a little angry.

<time for humor>

“I mean what if I told you that I was sick and tired of my self-limiting belief that I can’t do my own business taxes and need to hire an accountant. Dammit, I’m smart enough to study up on tax law and figure things out. I probably won’t even need to shut down my business to become a tax expert. I can do it in my spare time. Nights and weekends – I’ll take courses, read books, and get really good at this. So what if I don’t see my family… don’t exercise… don’t read and write… don’t have any time other than to work, sleep, eat and become a competent accountant. I can do this! I don’t have to let my self-limiting beliefs hold me back!!”

He laughed. He got it.

“Ok, so maybe some limiting beliefs and weaknesses are fine. So maybe I don’t have to become good at everything.”

“That’s right. You don’t. You shouldn’t.”


We shouldn’t fix all of our weaknesses. We shouldn’t chase every goal.

Because there’s a cost to every single goal we pursue, isn’t there? And while some of those goals and those costs are so worth it, others are not.

Our time is not in infinite supply. Our efforts are not in infinite supply.

So it’s important to be really smart about the goals we choose for ourselves.


A different model

Unlike the typical explanation of the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound), I’ve made up this one:

S – Spellbinding. Does it capture your heart/soul/mind? Does it fascinate you?

M – Matter. Does it matter that you’re the one who does this, or can it be done by someone else?

A – Action-driven. Can you take daily action on this goal to move it forward?

R – Responsible. Can you pursue this goal while being responsible to all the values and people you hold dear?

T – Triumphant. Will you feel triumphant when you accomplish it? Will you have achieved or created something that really matters to you?


Using those filters, let’s take a look at four potential goals I might have –

  1. Becoming a tax law expert
  2. Running a marathon
  3. Writing a book
  4. Creating a conference specifically for executive couples

The first one clearly fails along most of the categories. It doesn’t fascinate me at all. It doesn’t matter whether I do it or my CPA does it (actually it does matter – she’s much more qualified/capable/interested/willing). Yes, I could take daily actions, but not in a manner that would feel responsible to the values and people I hold dear, and certainly not something that I would feel triumphant about.

But 2, 3 and 4? Well, they all have elements of SMART in them. Maybe not this year, since I’m pursuing other goals, but I can certainly apply my SMART framework to them and see how I might want to make them happen in the future.

Goals are a very personal thing. What feels spellbinding to some, will bore others. What matters that it be done by us (vs. outsourced or delegated) will vary from situation to situation. Responsible and consistent actions will vary from life to life. And triumph can only be felt/described on a uniquely personal level.


Limits and weaknesses

So back to the concept of self-limiting beliefs or weaknesses… I say, bring them on! And only invest in fixing them if they’re truly hindering your ability to be the person/partner/parent/leader/contributor you’re striving to become.

What have you come to realize that you’re not so good at? And how important is it to invest time and effort in improving it (vs. outsourcing, delegating or letting it go)?
We’re all works-in-progress, but let’s be SMART about the work that we undertake.


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