Systems & Tips

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?

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. However, this doesn’t affect what I write about, what I choose to say, or what I recommend. Learn more here.