Reality Check: Are You Setting Unachievable Goals for Yourself?


A few months ago, I realized I was gaining weight. It wasn’t a big surprise — I work from home, and it’s easy to spend whole days sitting in front of my computer. I wanted to be more active, so I started paying attention to the number on my fitbit fitness tracker. I set a goal to get the fitbit-recommended 10,000 steps a day, every day, which works out to walking about five miles.

At first it was challenging, but I made “getting my steps” part of my daily routine, and I started to look forward to those fitness breaks. Some days I jog, and some days I walk, but bottom line was I was getting out there. A few weeks ago, I realized I’d hit 10,000 steps every day for the past few weeks, and I was really proud of myself. I decided I wanted to keep that streak going. When I set that goal for myself, it seemed like a great idea, but I didn’t really think it through.

My unspoken goal was to reach 10,000 steps, every day, forever…

I realized on one of my recent walks that I had no chance of succeeding at that. Eventually, I would get sick, or injured, or have to spend a whole day on a plane, and my streak would end. And then what? I’d feel like a failure, like I’d let myself down. But there was no way NOT to fail. Eventually something would come up that kept me from my daily walk or jog. I was frustrated with myself for setting an unachievable goal, and then it happened. I was so stressed about the recent election that I let a day pass without exercising. I failed at my fitness goal, and it gave me one more reason to be sad.

Meanwhile, I had another big goal going on this month. I’d signed up for NaNoWriMo, a project where you write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. (The novel doesn’t have to be good — it’s just about getting the words down, so you end the month with a rough draft.) Early in the month, I was going strong, but again, the election results affected my focus. I let a whole day pass without writing even one word on my novel, which meant I was about 1500 words behind.

Another fail, right? No. Because the novel-writing goal was better defined and had multiple routes of achieving it. I hadn’t promised myself to write every single day in November — I’d set a goal of writing 50,000 words by the end of the month. It’s perfectly acceptable if I write more on some days than I do on other days. I’m still on track to reach my goal, and I feel really good about it.

Since this month has been so goal-oriented for me, I started reading up on what makes a good goal.

Many productive people believe the best goals are “SMART.”

That’s an acronym to remind you to set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I’m not convinced that all goals have to be SMART goals, but those guidelines are a good place to start.

For example, my novel-writing goal is definitely a SMART one. Writing 50,000 words between Nov. 1 and Nov. 30 is realistic, as long as I make it a priority. I know I’ll have to work hard to achieve it, but it’s do-able. My fitness goal was less SMART, because it wasn’t time-bound. I didn’t give myself an end date, and there was no way I’d have the time and energy to get my steps every day forever. 

But here’s the thing: even SMART goals aren’t perfect. My main issue with SMART goals is the “A” for achievable. I don’t think every goal should feel achievable when you first write it down. I believe in aiming high, going big, and reaching for the stars. Setting a goal that feels unrealistic can be good motivation to step up your game and push yourself further than you’ve ever gone before.

The part of SMART goals that I do like is the “S” for specific. You’ve got to know exactly what you want, and that means there’s no room for vagueness. For example, you might want to become a happier person, but you can’t set that as a goal. Instead, you have to figure out what happiness means to you. Do you want a job where your creativity is valued? A fit, healthy body? A group of friends that get together regularly? 45 daily, carved-out minutes of sweet sweet You-time?

Boss Girl Challenge: 
Set the timer for 5 minutes and jot S-M-A-R-T on a piece of paper. Think of a goal you have been pondering. Now run through the SMART checklist and next to each letter, write down how or why your goal is in line with that part of SMART.


The T in SMART officially stands for “Time-bound,” but in my mind, it also stands for “Tell People.” I think we’re much more likely to achieve our goals if we announce them to the public in some way. If you keep a goal a secret, you have less accountability. Tell someone — even just one friend — about your goal, and encourage them to check in with you and find out how it’s going. If you’re nervous about attempting a new goal, telling someone might be just the nudge you need to get started.

My last thought on SMART goals? I wish the word smart had an F in it, for “Fail” (yeah, have some fun playing around with that new acronym ;))  When people succeed, they tend to stick with what has worked for them in the past, but when they fail, they’re forced to get creative and reevaluate the situation. Even if it feels like crap at first, failure is a good thing. If we build it into our goal-setting plans, maybe we’ll start to recognize its benefits.  

I failed at my fitness goal, but I’m not giving up. I’m still walking and jogging, but from now on, I’m taking things one week at a time — and if I miss a day, it’s no big deal. Every new week brings a new chance to succeed.


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