SMART goal setting is everywhere these days. SMART has become an acronym Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound. Companies, leaders, and consultants champion SMART goals as the be-all, end-all of goal setting. After all, if you set an attainable goal and put very specific parameters around it, it's bound to succeed, right? The path to success is literally laid out for you.

But that path may be more imaginary than it appears. SMART goals don't always enable an organization to succeed. Leadership IQ did a regression-based analysis of people's goal-setting habits of 4,182 workers from 397 organizations. They found that the SMART elements -- specific, measurable, etc. -- didn't predict success. In fact, its analysis found that SMART goals had "no meaningful correlation" with employees' ability to achieve impressive feats.

Worse, SMART goals can ignore a very real part of goal setting: the emotional component. Nicholas Kusmich, a Facebook advertising expert and the author of Give told me that SMART goals don't work for him because they create anxiety. Rather than celebrate what he's already done, he's thinking of what he hasn't checked off yet. Instead of feeling accomplished, he feels overwhelmed.

There's a smarter way to manage your goals as a new year starts.

1. Avoid goals.

This sounds counterintuitive, but focusing exclusively on achieving one thing -- hitting $5 million in revenue, winning an award, locking in a high-profile board member -- is putting all your eggs in one basket. Your view of how successful your business is -- and your self-esteem -- can become consumed with this one thing. If you don't make it happen by the deadline you've set, your disappointment can derail some truly impactful work.

Kusmich believes goals are essentially useless. Typical goal setting creates a lot of negativity, he explains, because we don't have the proactive skills to achieve the measurable goals we've set, creating enormous amounts of stress. Intentions and themes can be more helpful than concrete goals.

2. Focus on habits.

A growth mindset is another good way to focus your energy, and incremental growth is a smart way to eliminate pressure while still making progress. I do set goals, but I examine the habits needed and then work my way backward. If you can identify your direction and define the daily habits that will take you there, you have a plan.

I track my habits on a daily calendar. This includes everything from my workouts to my nutrition to my meditation practice. I even add in two-hour blocks focused on growing my business's revenue. By scheduling it, I commit to it and prioritize it over other distractions. It's also easy to chart my progress this way -- if I haven't made it to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in a week or met with my team in as much time, I know where I need to put work in.

3. Remove what's holding you back.

Most people focus on what they need to add to their lives to get what they want. It might actually be what you're currently doing that's holding you back: hitting up buffets after long workouts, packing your calendar to exhaustion, surrounding yourself with negative people. It might even be the confidence-deflating thoughts you carry in your head.

Shannon Graham, leadership coach and speaker, wrote a leadership book called Expand. In it, he says, "For too long, a limiting, one-dimensional model of leadership has taken us by force, creating a mindset that has been tolerated because of the results it can produce. This bottom-line-driven model is the lowest minimum standard."

I frequently see this with clients: They're so focused on doing lots of things that they never take a step back to think about what's most important or what's keeping them stuck where they are. They become so obsessed with producing that what they truly want to achieve takes a backseat to the here and now. How's that feeding their goals?

SMART goals can be motivating for some people, but ironically, they can make others feel like failures. To get more of what you want this year, look at alternatives to traditional goal setting. Removing a negative influence or getting rid of overly detailed expectations may not sound like much, but it may be exactly what you need to grow.

Published on: Jan 24, 2019