Four Reasons Why S.M.A.R.T. Goals Aren’t So Smart Anymore
We’ve pulled this one from the archives for you. Last edited 10/4/22.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning we earn a small commission if you purchase through one of our links (at no cost to you). We only share things we truly love!
Remember when coffee shops were all the rage? Starbucks hadn’t popped up on every corner yet, so local, Central-Perk-ish type places were everywhere. Around the same time, Barnes & Noble came to my hometown of Oklahoma City, and opened two locations, complete with coffee shops. Since I had just received the keys to my first car (a lovely circa 1990 GMC Jimmy, white, with a two-tone blue replacement tailgate), and wanted a place to hang out, my friends and I would escape to these coffee shops.
Barnes & Noble knew what they were doing. The coffee shop next to the bookstore was a brilliant idea. I’d grab my coffee, and browse the magazines, the hobby section, and the fiction section, but what really lured me in was the self-help section. Because I was on a sixteen-year-old’s budget, I’d sit on the floor in the aisles and read while I drank my coffee.
Turns out, there was a whole world of authors out there willing to tell me how to live my life, and I was the sucker they were looking for.
The coffee shop at that Barnes and Noble was where I first met the idea of S.M.A.R.T. goals. My budget was limited, and I was still mostly into Grace Livingston Hill fiction stuff at that point, so I never bought the books I browsed, but I soaked up as much information as I could.
S.M.A.R.T. goals sounded nice, and I was sure the gurus knew what they were talking. Millions of people seemed to agree that S.M.A.R.T. goals were the way to go. Whoever came up with this S.M.A.R.T. goals concept was older and wiser than I was. So I leaned in, set some “smart goals”, and then went about my life.
A million people can’t be wrong, right?
Over the next few years, I went to a few high school and college leadership seminars, retreats, workshops. I think we set S.M.A.R.T. goals at every one of them. I started a Goals Notebook, where I could keep all my goal notes and lists, and I kept going about life.
After I started my first business, we brainstormed and set S.M.A.R.T. goals as a team. It was a fun way to get a day off of work, so my team loved it. But as time crept on, I started to realize that we weren’t seeing results. Or, if we were, those results weren’t getting us where we needed to go. Or, we’d end up where we THOUGHT we needed to be, only to realize it wasn’t where we wanted to be.
I noticed the same things happening with my personal goals as well. I’d set my goals, using the S.M.A.R.T. goals framework, and then they’d sit, collecting dust and being successfully ignored, until I finally realized the smartest thing I could do with them was chunk them in a trash can.
I had to ask myself why they didn’t work.
- S.M.A.R.T. goals are arbitrary. A breaking point for me was when I was sitting in (yet another) workshop where the leader said, “Now it’s time to write your goals down!” I wanted to throw my pen down in frustration, because I knew there were multiple uncompleted goal lists at home. Adding another random list of “smart” goals to the top of that pile wasn’t going to solve anything.
- S.M.A.R.T. goals aren’t balanced. As I looked back at all my “smart” goals, I recognized a common theme: they were all about business. Over the course of my years of setting “smart” goals, not a single goal had anything to do with my personal life or relationships. My goal list was making my life out-of-balance.
- S.M.A.R.T. goals don’t take your strengths and weaknesses into account. I could set a goal to be a nuclear physicist, but the truth is, I don’t have the passion, foundation, or skill set to make that goal happen.
- S.M.A.R.T. goals don’t take into account your current life. We all have to-do lists of stuff that needs to get done, already. We don’t need to make a goal list that just adds to our to-dos. We need to look at our to-dos and ask ourselves if those actions are helping us get to where we want to go.
It turns out, over the years, the concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals has been adapted, revised, and added to. Did you know you can have S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals? (Don’t kill me, I just rolled my eyes, too.)
I don’t want to be yet another person telling others how to live their lives, but I had to figure out a better way. I loved goals and I wanted to set goals, but I wanted the goals that I set to not just be achievable: I also wanted them to help me move towards a vision, a bigger picture.
And S.M.A.R.T. goals just didn’t seem to cut it.
I wanted to set goals that encompassed every area of my life, but I didn’t want to over-complicate the areas of my life. Turns out that the gurus talk about life balance a lot as well, so I did a bit of research to see what basic areas of life needed to be targeted in order to set balanced goals.
I also wanted this to be easy for me to remember. So I started using the acronym of H.E.A.R.T. goals to help me identify and set goals that wouldn’t be arbitrary and would recognize every area of my life.
Now, I make sure to set goals according to these life segments:
- H – Help Yourself. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey starts with personal accountability (be proactive, you have a choice, take responsibility for that power of choice), and ends with personal growth (sharpen the saw, take care of yourself). It really does start and end with you. Put your own oxygen mask on first. This can include sleep (eight hours a night), exercise (just go for a walk if you don’t see yourself becoming a gym-rat), journaling time (all the giants have done it, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Dave Ramsey), quiet time.
- E – Empower Yourself. One of the unifying factors of successful people is that they NEVER. Stop. Learning. In fact, it’s practically their pastime and hobby. They’re always reading books, talking with other people about books they’ve read, going to workshops. They are personally aware that they haven’t yet figured it all out, and they are always on the hunt for education and growth. Their spirit is hungry and humble, as I once heard New York Times best-selling author Donald Miller say.
- A – All Your People. I personally believe that there are two things that are eternal in this world: the word of God and the souls of other human beings. Theology aside, people matter above profits, above power, above prestige. People also matter in a certain order, from immediate family on out. People are easy to prioritize. Don’t complicate it.
- R – Resources & Responsibilities. We can’t neglect the finite and important things in life: time, money, and energy. Energy should be managed in the first point, Help Yourself. Time should be carefully managed on a daily basis. But money does require special stewardship, and that’s where the resources segment comes in. I remember a facilitator at a ropes course counseling our team: if you don’t use your resources, you lose them. We need to steward our finances well.
- T – Trade & Talent. This is last, and all too often we set out so quickly in this world to make it first. Don’t. It’s last. You, your people, your personal growth, and the management of your resources all come before your work and your business. The only time Trade ever comes before anything else is when you have to put in that extra push of intense energy to get something off the ground. Jon Acuff calls this the 5 a.m. Club, and recommends getting up an hour earlier every day to work on your dream. Yes, you’ll sacrifice sleep to do it, but don’t get accustomed to that habit—sleep is so important, and after your idea is off the ground, you’ll need to return to best practices.
So do I think S.M.A.R.T. goals are bad? No, I just think they’re not enough. All goals still need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-sensitive, but setting H.E.A.R.T. goals will keep your life in balance, and make sure your goals are on the right track.
If you want to know more about setting HEART goals—you are in luck! I wrote a book, called A More Beautiful Life, sharing more of my story with SMART goals and HEART goals.
Have you given HEART goals a try yet or do you have any questions about the concept? Drop a comment and let me know!
I’m trying to follow your blog on Bloglovin’, but it looks like your latest blog post on Bloglovin’ is from October. Maybe the feed changed? Thanks for your help.
Hi Anika! Thanks for pointing that out! Turns out, I have to contact the Bloglovin folks directly to get that taken care of, but I’ve done that, so hopefully they’ll update it in the next couple of days. Thank you!
Hey Whitney —
Can you expand more on “R”? I am having a hard time thinking of goals for that section.
Thank you for this awesome new way to set goals! I have never been more excited to tackle my goals in the new year. I linked to this post as well as your Day Designer site in my newest blog post 🙂 HEART Goals are amazing!
Thank you so much for this post! I came across your HEART Goals worksheet on your Day Designer site and I LOVE it. I’ve never been so excited to tackle my goals for the new year! 🙂 I linked to this post and your site on my newest blog post. Hopefully my readers will find this to be their new favorite way of setting goals.
I have the heart goals pad and really need to start using it. I’ve been so overwhelmed lately and feel like this would help me tremendously. How much time do you set aside for this and how often do you do it?
Hi Meghan – Here’s a note from Whitney with the answer to your question!
Hi Meghan! I’ve used HEART for so long now that it doesn’t take me long to make a list. I also don’t pressure myself to find EVERY single thing in my brain and get it down on paper. If it’s important enough, it will surface again. We have a blog post coming on managing your to-do list, too. Check that out, maybe it will help as well!
*The Whitney English Team*
I read your book this summer on HEART goals. Loved it! ❤️
Happy to hear that!
*The Whitney English Team*
Love these. I’m definitely a goal setter but haven’t used HEART. Excited to learn more.
HEART is a game-changer! Let us know if you have any questions about getting started with it or want us to point you towards any more HEART resources!
*The Whitney English Team*
I love this concept, seems more realistic, for me anyway. Thank you for putting this out there….now I’m off to check out your book! I love books…. Need to find more time to read all of them.
So many books, so little time! Our team has the same problem——but Whitney’s book is definitely one worth making time for!
*The Whitney English Team*
I really like the idea of the HEART goals. Now I just need to stop procrastinating and actually use the concepts to set some. Ha.
You’ve got this! One step at a time – Whitney likes to call it “goal-living” instead of “goal setting” because it’s a process!
*The Whitney English Team*