SMART Goals Are Not Always Wise

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My name is Carol Anderson, and I’m the founder and president of Money Quotient, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Our mission is to facilitate the exploration and implementation of a values-based, life-centered approach to financial planning. Central to this holistic process is helping clients to develop important and meaningful goals that become the focus and foundation of the financial plan.

However, I’ve learned that many individuals are resistant to talking about and committing to specific goals. One of the reasons, I believe, is that most of us have been taught about goal setting through the use of the SMART acronym. The theory is that in order to be successful in our pursuits, our goals must be:


But, there is a problem with this template—it is rigid and uninspiring. In other words, it puts the concept of planning and achievement in a linear framework that appeals only to the rational side of our brains. When used in a client meeting setting, your clients come to view their financial and personal goals as a list of “shoulds” that require them to work harder and be more disciplined in order to reach their objectives.  

As an alternative, substitute words for the SMART acronym that speak to your clients on an emotional level and will inspire enthusiasm and action. Here is an example:


Significant—Goals that resonate with what is most important to your clients will keep them motivated and increase their life satisfaction as they work toward meeting their objectives.

Meaningful—Oftentimes, individuals set goals based on what others—parents, employers, society—view as important. However, to be truly inspiring and satisfying, your clients must set goals that align with their own values and priorities.

Attracting—When goals are both significant and meaningful, they create a positive image that will draw your clients. Lou Tice, founder of Pacific Institute and expert in human motivation wrote, “We move toward that which we think about.”

Rewarding—Sometimes your clients won’t make progress toward their goals because, consciously or subconsciously, they are still weighing the costs and benefits of making the commitment required.  Helping them to make an honest appraisal of this inner conflict will bring clarity and help them focus on the rewards of the destination.

Timely—It is important to realize that some goals should have specific target dates and others should not. In some cases, imposing deadlines too soon can discourage your clients and stifle their creativity. Often, a more important consideration is timing—“Is the timing right for you to commit to this goal?” In addition, goals that have more open-ended time frames can encourage your clients to indulge in possibility thinking and to discover new ways of achieving what they want most in life.

What techniques have you adopted to create an effective goal setting process with your clients? How have you reframed the conversation about goals in order to engage your clients’ minds and their hearts? I would love to hear from you!

C  Anderson (2)Carol Anderson
Money Quotient
Poulsbo, Wash.

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