insights: Grit

Why With Goals, Should You Stretch or Get SMART?

The biggest “Aha” I had while reading Grit…is that ultra successful people don’t set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Why? Because they don’t work. Short for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound,” SMART goals are often used in the professional world, and in past years, I set many of them myself. You, too? And how did those work out for you?

The biggest “Aha” I had while reading Grit…is that ultra successful people don’t set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Why? Because they don’t work. Short for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound,” SMART goals are often used in the professional world, and in past years, I set many of them myself. You, too? And how did those work out for you?

If you’re anything like me, when I was setting those goals, I’d review the previous year’s accomplishments and failures. The aim was fairly simple for the year in front of me: increase the accomplishments and never repeat the failures. But what if I didn’t perform to my true potential last year, and now I’m basing this year’s goals on those less-than-stellar achievements? What if I’m driven by a fear of failure, which leads more often to avoidance than aspiration?

In Grit, Duckworth explains that we should be throwing out the SMART goal-setting process and instead setting “stretch goals.” I couldn’t agree more. A stretch goal is something that is just beyond one’s reach at the present time but is attainable with effort. Stretch goals inspire us to become just a little bit better that we were yesterday because we are pursuing our passion. Stretch goals inspire us to continue to take action day after day after day, despite anticipated failures along the way. Yes, anticipated failures. When we learn what drives us, what constitutes our “why?” factor, we can not only set meaningful stretch goals that spark transformation, we grow grit in the process.

Also, it isn’t the goal that brings fulfillment as much as it is the journey we took to achieve that goal. Think about that for a moment. When I consider a goal I’ve achieved, like completing my Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology, I don’t immediately recall the fond memories of walking across the stage for my diploma. I remember all the homework, research, and internship hours — the work it took to get me to that diploma — and I’m super proud of myself for that accomplishment.

Don’t let failures stop you and don’t underestimate your potential. Set stretch goals and lose your fear of failure on your journey to goal achievement. That’s what having grit is all about