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Why SMART Goals Suck

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I don’t believe in SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) goals one bit.

I discovered the power of setting big and massive goals when I was a junior in high school. I was a recovering teenage drug addict looking to find my way in life, and I knew the only way to make something of myself was to get a college scholarship for football. I already got kicked off my baseball team (which was my best sport) and football was all I had. 

Related: How Do You Look at the Barriers in Your Life?

When I got released from a drug rehab facility, I set a goal to get a division one scholarship. I had terrible stats the year before, no colleges knew who I was and I was slow, skinny and very hard headed, but I knew the only way to pay back all of those I hurt was to get a college scholarship.

Nothing about that goal that I set back then was SMART. Yes, it was very specific, but definitely not “realistic,” especially coming from a recovering drug addict.

To achieve uncommon success, we must set uncommon goals and then have an uncommon work ethic to actually make that goal a reality. 

A year later, after working out seven days a week, sometimes for eight hours a day, I had 19 division one scholarship offers from some of the biggest football programs in the country. That wouldn’t have happened if I set a realistic goal a year before.

I then went on to play at Indiana University and set big and massive goals, unrealistic ones, right from the get go. Still, until this day, I hold a school record for most sacks in a single game, led my team in tackles both my junior and senior years, and was an all-conference player my senior year in one of the best conferences in the country.

I then went on to play for my hometown team the Chicago Bears for a year before suffering an ankle injury that would sideline me for nine months before I discovered my true purpose and calling, which is what I do now, speaking and writing.

Please understand that none of this is to impress you, but to impress upon you. I wouldn’t have been able to do half of what I have done in 27 years of being alive if I bought into the concept of SMART goals.

Related: A True Goal Needs to Become an Obsession

Now don’t get me wrong, SMART goals may have worked for you in the past, but there is also a good chance that SMART goals have been one of the main reasons as to why you haven’t tapped into your absolute full potential.

Take a look at Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, for a quick example. Nothing they ever set out to do was realistic in the eyes of others or what the SMART goal setting system says to do.

Not only from my own experience do I not believe in SMART goals, but also from getting the opportunity to know other world-class athletes and high achievers who can testify that they would never be where they currently are if they were realistic or bought into the whole SMART goals concept.

You should absolutely have common sense. There is no way on earth I am going to go be an opera singer even if that was one of my biggest goals in life.

What I am trying to tell you is to stop playing it safe and setting small goals that you know you will achieve. If you aren't setting goals that scare not only yourself, but others as well, then they are not big enough. 

Just as Michelangelo said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” 

Related: 8 Steps to Crushing Ridiculous Goals

Matt Mayberry

Written By

A former NFL linebacker for the Chicago Bears, Matt Mayberry is currently a keynote speaker, peak-performance strategist and writer. As the CEO of Matt Mayberry Enterprises, a training and consulting company, he specializes in maximizing the performance of individuals and organizations all over the world. He published his first book, Winning Plays, in 2016. You can contact him and learn more at mattmayberryonline.com.