A Superior Goal Setting Model: Moving Beyond SMART

You may have heard the advice before about making goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.

There are a lot of strengths in setting goals this way, but something about it bugged me. I couldn’t really figure out what it was that I didn’t like, but I knew there had to be a better way.

Then I read Michael Linenberger’s Master Your Workday Now, and it clicked. [Note: I don’t fully endorse this book.]

Linenberger has some great insight on setting goals. I suddenly realized the shortcomings of SMART goals and how a new approach to goal setting would be superior.

Two-Part Goals

Linenberger states that goals should have two components: a vision goal and a target goal.

The vision goal is the ideal image of what your life will be like when your goal is achieved, specifically what it will feel like. It serves primarily as a motivation tool. A vision goal for weight loss might be something like: “I am fit and healthy. I have high levels of energy, and I can perform vigorous activity without being wiped out. I know that I am being a good steward of my physical body.”

The target goal is your typical SMART goal. Target goals are self-imposed checkpoints that keep you on track and insure that effective action is being made. To continue with our weight loss example, a target goal would be: “By Nov 1, I weigh 165 lbs.”

These two parts work together and enhance each other. The vision goal motivates and gives broad direction. The target goal clarifies and outlines action.

I’m currently a big fan of this approach to goal setting. Here are a few ways that two-part goals beat out typical SMART goals.

Keeping Your Goals True

I think the strongest benefit of this approach is setting goals for areas that aren’t very measurable.

For instance, what about personal spiritual growth? Or being a better spouse or parent?

To get SMART with these, you have to put a heavy emphasis on the only things you can measure. So instead of “I want to be a better husband,” the SMART goal would be: “I want to have a weekly date night with my wife every week this year.” Or for spiritual growth: “By Jan 1, 2012, I have read through my entire bible. Each day, I have prayed for 10 minutes.”

You can probably see the problem with that approach.

It’s possible to be a very non-loving husband and still check that weekly date night off your to-do list. And legalistically reading the Bible and praying every day is not the same thing as growing spiritually.

In the drive to make your goal measurable, you’ve redefined your goal.

Instead, what if you made a vision goal for spiritual growth? Something like : “I am continually growing in my relationship with the Lord. I am growing in knowledge and wisdom. I love him more daily and am increasingly consumed with a zeal for him and his ways.”

That is your true goal. None of this measurable, quantifiable stuff.

Now, add to that a corresponding target goal. We could even use the SMART goal mentioned earlier: “By Jan 1, 2012, I have read through my entire bible. Each day, I have prayed for 10 minutes.”

With a vision and target component, you’ve thought through the actions you will take to reach your goals. But most importantly, you haven’t redefined your goal. By reminding yourself of your vision goal, you can stay grounded and pursue the target goal for the right reasons.


For most SMART goals, people vaguely remember the vision that inspired them to set the goal in the first place. But when this vision is explicitly stated as a vision goal, this is much more motivating. Instead of reviewing your goals simply just to see where you’re at, you can regularly remind yourself of the vision. That’s incredibly motivating.

Keeping SMART Goals Secondary

The vision is really your true goal. That’s where you want to go. The targets are checkpoints you establish for yourself to help keep you on track. The target goal is an aid that helps flesh the vision into reality.

Linenberger points out that target goals should be treated like a game. Don’t take them too seriously. They are just self-imposed aids to get you to your vision. If you don’t reach them, don’t stress out. Keep the vision and retool. If you do complete them, celebrate.

Remember that you’re striving for the vision, not necessarily the target.

So what’s your opinion?

Do you see the benefit of two-part goals – or do you prefer the traditional SMART way?

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  • http://www.shrinkingthecamel.com Bradley J. Moore

    Yes, the vision, or “I am” types of statements are powerful – much more powerful than setting incremental goals. I agree that we have become so trained towards the goal-setting, that we often shy away from or forget altogether this idea of envisioning an expanded view of yourself. Lately I have been saying “I am” statement first thing in the morning, around a couple of visionary things I would like to see for myself. It promotes a completely different mindset.

    THe only other thing I would add to this is to round it out with a personal Purpose statement – to have an anchor for your life, the reason, the point, the focus for your living.. this is hard to do, but can also be a helpful exercise.

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      Bradley, good advice. Personal purpose statements do a great job of keeping us grounded if we do them the right way. My opinion is that a purpose statement works best when it is as brief as possible. Too often, purpose statements simply become long-winded laundry lists of all the areas of our life – basically doing nothing but restating our goals.

  • http://faithfulparents.org Craig Allen

    “And legalistically reading the Bible and praying every day is not the same thing as growing spiritually.”

    Totally agree. It took me a long time to start living it, though. Great stuff – I will definitely be back!!

    PS – what a great customization of Standard Theme!

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      Craig, glad you liked it! It’s easy for us to be so SMART-focused that we drift into legalism. At least for me, it is.

  • http://ericspeir.com/ Eric

    This is a great idea. I will definitely keep this in mind as well. As a coach I use the SMART goal method but I always felt that it was a little short sighted as well. A goal like this will help you to keep things on track in your life.

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      So I guess I’m not the only one that thought things were a little off with SMART goals. Let me know how everything works for you.

  • http://www.ineffableGod.com Jon

    Wow..thanks for the information. I’m not the best with time management, but I can definitely see the advantage of having the two part goal system versus just the SMART approach.

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      Glad you found it helpful. Let me know how it works for you!

  • http://alexspeaks.com Alex Humphrey

    Hrm, that’s very interesting. I am working on something similar right now. Not just “setting goals” but “setting lifestyle.” I’ll be interested to see what you think when I’m done.

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      Hmm… sounds intriguing. I’m eager to check it out.

  • http://www.mycmsite.com/olaotto Ola Otto

    Great article. Thanks for posting! Ola

  • http://www.nickthacker.com Nick Thacker


    This is absolutely fascinating. I think you’re right on when you talk about the “vision” side of the goal: I’d always tended to lean toward setting one overall vision, but numerous “tactics” to get there (SMART Goals). Now, I think I’ll revisit some of what I’ve set for myself and see if there’s a specific vision part of each I can add.

    BTW, just stumbled across your site–fantastic idea and great follow-through! I love your writing and style, and I’ll be checking back often!

    Take care,

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      Hey Nick,
      Thanks for your compliments. I’m glad you enjoy the site.
      The idea of a vision and target goal seemed so obvious when I read it, but it has powerful implications. Let me know how adding in the vision part of your goals works out for you!

  • http://www.ultra-carpet-cleaning.com Fidel@CarpetCleaningSanAntonio

    Hi Loren,
    Well I’m going to revisit my goals for 2012 and reenforce them with a vision Statement. It really makes sense..

    • http://www.lifeofasteward.com Loren Pinilis

      Great, Fidel. I’ve found it to be very helpful in firing me up.

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