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Setting Meaningful Goals – When SMART Is Not Enough


SMART goals have been the cornerstone of personal and business performance for many years. However, there are times when we need to go beyond SMART to create a connection to a goal that is empowering.

Inspired by Helen Smith, I could set myself a goal that on 27 August 2022 I will swim the length of Loch Ness in less than 18 hours. As a goal it’s perfectly SMART – but, despite being a keen swimmer, it’s really not going to happen without coaching. The aspects holding me back are as big as the goal itself.

All coaches have their preferred ways to gain traction on a goal and one of mine is outlined below. It would never be allowed in scrabble, but I’d like to add five Ps to SMART.

1) Make it Personal. Identify what you value about achieving the goal. The goal may have been ascribed by your manager but in what ways will you benefit from achieving this? What’s important about that for you? Include the value in how you write your goal so it’s front of mind.

2) Make it Positive. The subconscious treats positive and negative thoughts the same. Don’t think about a pink elephant and – too late. Alpine skiers focus on heading for the gaps rather than avoiding the trees. Keep in mind what you want to gain in achieving the goal rather than what you want to avoid. It’ll work for you much more powerfully.

3) Make it Proportionate. Whatever goal we work on takes priority over other areas of work, or indeed life. Keep in mind what’s important to you and then decide how much you will invest in achieving this goal.

4) Make it Possible. SMART focuses on ‘realistic’ or ‘attainable’ depending on which version you use, which can be underwhelming. By focusing on possibilities, it opens up new, more inspiring lines of thought. As long as a goal is possible, it can be broken down into steps to prevent it from becoming overwhelming. Aim for ideal ‘whelm’.

5) Make it Progressive. We create capacity for success during the process of working on a goal. By breaking a goal down into multiple, manageable steps you experience smaller, daily successes rather than a long drawn-out journey of striving where eventual success at the end feels like an anti-climax. Create the vision, introduce the new habits needed to support it, and celebrate the wins along the way.

With that in mind, my new goal becomes: I will build-up my fitness and resilience swimming 3 times per week with my team so that on 27 August 2022 we swim the length of Loch Ness as a relay and raise £5k to support ALS research into better treatments. If we can get a photo of Nessie along the way, we’ll auction it off to add to the fund-raising!

When you think about your connection to your goals, what comes to mind?

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