Goals Work! (Maybe.)

Posted: March 12th, 2017

Goals Work! (Maybe.) | Written by: David Volk, Esq. © 2017

Does setting goals work? Probably not, unless done very carefully. When I began doing research for this article, I thought I was going to find overwhelming statistical proof that goal-setting easily transforms a life to higher and higher levels of achievement. It seems there are more naysayers than true fans of goal setting. That probably stems from the fact that people are unrealistic in goal setting and if that is what ordinarily happens, objective observers can’t be faulted for having their doubts about the entire subject. Don’t give up! Just think about the power you have to positively influence your life and proceed with reasonable goal setting in developing that power. 

Conventional wisdom says goal setting requires following the SMART method. SMART stands for:

S – Specific.

M – Measurable.

A – Attainable.

R – Relevant.

T – Time-bound.



 So, what categories of goals should you have? Mindtools has the following set of great categories.

Career – What level do you want to reach in your career, or what do you want to achieve?

Financial – How much do you want to earn, by what stage? How is this related to your career goals?

Education – Is there any knowledge you want to acquire in particular? What information and skills will you need to have in order to achieve other goals?

Family – Do you want to be a parent? If so, how are you going to be a good parent? How do you want to be seen by a partner or by members of your extended family?

Artistic – Do you want to achieve any artistic goals?

Attitude – Is any part of your mindset holding you back? Is there any part of the way that you behave that upsets you? (If so, set a goal to improve your behavior or find a solution to the problem.)

Physical – Are there any athletic goals that you want to achieve, or do you want good health deep into old age? What steps are you going to take to achieve this?

Pleasure – How do you want to enjoy yourself? (You should ensure that some of your life is for you!)

Public Service – Do you want to make the world a better place? If so, how?

That could lead to a lofty list of unattainable objectives. If you are SMART, you cannot forget the goals must be attainable. The wording of the goal makes a great deal of difference. Scott Christ, writing in Entrepreneur.com, says:

Leadership IQ, a training and research company, studied 4,182 employees from 397 companies and found that just 15 percent of those surveyed strongly agreed that their goals would help them achieve great things. Only 13 percent of workers strongly agreed that their goals would help them maximize their full potential.

 Part of the problem is that SMART goals are too focused on outcomes.

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Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center, Heidi Grant Halvorson, has advocated a "get better" mind-set for personal growth and development.

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She recommends writing down goals and then rewriting them using words like improve, progress, develop, become and grow.

Wise counsel! We can and should all commit to steady improvement. Or, like the people that like this blog, being a lifelong learner. When you commit to constant improvement, you will find your path growing easier and achievements coming your way. Your goals will have been facilitated by your commitment to personal improvement rather than simply achieving ‘things.’ The main ‘thing’ we should all pursue is to become our best self.

In Why Goal Setting Doesn't Work, Ray Williams, writing in Psychology Today, reinforces this message of goals as a path to personal improvement rather than grabbing for abstract or unreasonable things.

“When I work with people as their coach and mentor, they often tell me they've set goals such as "I want to be wealthy," or "I want to be more beautiful/popular," "I want a better relationship/ideal partner." They don't realize they've just described the symptoms or outcomes of the problems in their life. The cause of the problem, which many resist facing, is themselves. They don't realize that for a change to occur, if one is desirable, they must change themselves. Once they make the personal changes, everything around them can alter, which may make the goal irrelevant.

There's an old saying: "you don't get what you want in life, you get in life what you are.”’

A little practice is called for to help you get started in achieving your better self. Start with setting attainable self-improvement goals. Try these:

  1. I will get to work on time and will not sneak out early.
  2. I will not gossip about co-workers.
  3. I will volunteer for more responsibility at work.
  4. If I have a boss or customer that asks me to do something, I will do it enthusiastically and complete it in a timely fashion.
  5. I am not as good at ___________ as I would like so I will _________ to improve at that.
  6. I will work on each assignment to do it better than the person assigning it expected me to do.

That sort of thing can get you started. It will get you in the habit of being better and doing better. Believe me, others will notice. These ‘things’ fit the SMART model. Take care of being your best self and watch that best self achieve greater and greater results.    



MindTools website

Scott Christ, When SMART Goals Don't Work, Here's What to Do Instead, April 17, 2014   

Psychology Today Blog “Why Goal Setting Doesn’t Work”


David Volk, a Business Litigation Attorney with Volk Law Offices, P.A., has 29 years’ experience and can be reached at help@volklawoffices.com or by visiting VolkLaw online at VolkLawOffices.com 

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