Smart Goals

I spend a lot of time thinking about goals and goal setting. I started both Body For Life and an evening MBA program back in 2004. One thing that both of these endeavors had in common was a focus on goal setting. Indeed almost every fitness program or personal development book I’ve read has had a section on goal setting. I learned from both programs how important it was to have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic & timely) Goals. Occasionally, in the MBA program, we were encouraged to have a BHAG or big hairy audacious goal but for the most part, measurable progress comes from specific, measurable, written incremental goals. In my own life, I have found this to be an effective system. I find that intermediate goals help. For example, I’m signed up for a marathon in September. However, I worry that I might not get there, even though I am sticking to the training plan. So, I signed up for some intermediate races (10, 15 and 20 miles) so that I have the possibility of achieving all of the distances or at least some that will make the marathon a more feasible goal.

The problem for me comes when a goal is achieved. If I don’t have the next goal ready, I hit a “now what?” moment where it becomes easy to coast and not make progress. I suppose it is somewhat like climbing a mountain for the first time. You focus all of your energy on reaching the top and when you get there there is that fleeting feeling of success and then perhaps a surge of “is this all?”

Steve Pavlina has a post today that questions the SMART goal paradigm. He suggests a system that is much more process and path driven. It is very much focused on the present moment and the enjoyment of the process.

He wrote in part, “As you think about how your goals improve your present reality, eventually you’ll feel motivated to take action. At the same time, you’ll begin attracting resources into your life that will help you achieve your goals. There’s no need to force yourself — you’ll find yourself naturally drawn to take action as you keep bringing your focus back to the present. When you think about a goal in a way that motivates you right now, it’s only natural that you’ll begin taking action congruent with the goal.”

The destination will still be there. Enjoy the path. Steve’s post reminded me of the writings of  Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist priest, who has some beautiful meditations on such things as “present moment, wonderful moment.” So I am pondering, if the path one is taking to achieve a goal does not improve one’s present reality, is the goal wrong or merely the path?