The Happiness Trap – Week 7 – SMART Goals (ugh)

So I set (and meet) goals all the time. This week the Happiness Trap wanted me to think about SMART goals, and I (and every other corporate employee in America collectively) cringed.

For those who don’t know, SMART goals (“Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely”) are how your company decides you’re not good enough to get a raise. If you meet all of your SMART goals, you are rated “achieved expectations” and get no raise or bonus. You see – in order to make sure nobody gets raises or bonuses, they changed the criteria, so that just “is really great at your job” isn’t enough, and now neither is “is really great at your job and also achieves related non-job electives”. You have to be really super amazingly awesometastic and probably save your company millions of dollars to rank “exceeds expectations” on anything, and often companies literally will not let bosses give out that rating at all. Because they don’t want to give you a raise or a bonus.

So when my therapy/life-skills/etc program starts talking about SMART goals, I start telling the program to go fuck itself.

But in the interest of completing the program, I decided to listen to the videos at least, and it turns out that Dr. Russ Harris did some creative modification to the acronym, and it’s a little less horrible.

From an ACT perspective, a SMART goal instead is Specific, Motivated by Values, Adaptable, Realistic, and Timely. So we kept “be specific” and “have a time frame” and threw out all the rest of it, which frankly makes this really confusing from a re-learn the thing standpoint, but also I think I can work with this?

Because if my goal setting is based on my values, adapts to my life situation, and has to be realistic for me and where I am – that all just sounds like good sense with making goals, and doesn’t sound like I need to make goals like “lose X number of pounds” or “be able to meditate for one hour” in order for it to be fucking Measurable. 

Anyway. I did the exercises, and came up with a goal for myself, set specifically by my life domain of spirituality, and motivated by my value of pursuing knowledge and personal growth, that I would read for at least 20 minutes every night before bed (if not longer), something that was nourishing to my spirit.

That’s a specific action, within a specific time frame, it’s motivated by values, I can adapt it as necessary (I don’t have to be reading heavy lifting, I can read a lighthearted book, or even reread a book I know I love), and that’s usually time I would spend dicking around on my phone, so I’m replacing something that’s not necessarily helpful with something that will be more in line with what I want to do.

It’ll also help me get through the backlist of books I have waiting on me!

I still kind of hate formalized goal setting, and as someone who usually gets a lot done, I don’t know how much I’ll use this in the future, but for a one week exercise and an attempt to build a better before-bed habit, I’m fine with it. 

I really do wish he’d chosen another acronym though. As it is, having two different systems using SMART goals just means people are going to misunderstand him when he talks about them in a therapy context, especially people in the US in the corporate world, and it’s going to make them hostile to his messaging. 

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