Forget SMART Goals and Try This Instead

For four years, I struggled using SMART Goals that got me nowhere. I experienced psychological pressure and pain from always feeling like I would never be enough until I reached some magically self-created utopia through achieving my goals.

I never ended up accomplishing most of them.

I remember desperately working to be fit for a fitness test; training so hard that I ended up giving myself a chronic heel injury that I still have to this day. In reaching for my goals like they’d somehow make me complete, I pushed myself past my limit. With every goal I had, this theme would repeat itself.

I went after each goal like it’d make me or break me.

Eventually, after nearly half a decade, I realized that goals aren’t about belonging, or reaching a safe place. They’re not there so that I can prove myself to anyone. They’re just there to help me move forward, to grow, and become a better person, however simplistic that may sound.

Compass Goals Changed Everything For Me

Over the course of 2016, I managed to achieve several different goals. They include reading over seventy books, improving my income, traveling to various countries, and reaching something that’s a lot closer to my dream body.

But more importantly, I achieved my goals in a far more grounded way. Compared to previous years, I felt more excited throughout my journey. I didn’t feel like I was grasping and yearning helplessly, with flailing arms, for my goals. The beautiful side effect of that was that I was less wrapped up in my own bubble,

I share all of this to show you that positive internal change is more than possible, even with the deepest experiences of disappointment—year after year. No matter how many times you’ve felt like a failure before. No matter how many times you haven’t stuck to your goals.

Compass Goals vs. SMART Goals

A goal becomes a compass goal when it improves your present in a meaningful, exciting way. It’s there to teach you something about yourself and the world, but you’re not too attached to the outcome you’re going after.

With a series of compass goals, life becomes a mixture of interconnecting wormholes that move you toward greater growth and fulfilment.

Pursuing goals is a lot like riding a bicycle toward different destinations. You need to know when to speed up, based on the terrain that’s in front of you. You need to know when to slow down, based on the obstacles you eventually come to face. And you have to make those decisions while remembering that you want to get to those various places on time—while maintaining your sanity throughout the journey.

Even more importantly, you need to know if a goal or destination is even worth going for in the first place. You can’t take a trip to a planned destination lightly, and some goals will take longer to reach. The exploration we’re about to delve into will show you exactly how to decide which of your goals are worth going for, and how to go about pursuing them.

But first, let’s make something clear.

Your Life Will Always Be About the Climb

There’s this idea in our culture that suggests that we’ll magically “make it” once we achieve a certain milestone. It could be anything from releasing a viral video, winning American Idol, or joining an NBA Team.

Through the slipstream of celebrity culture, with rap songs with lyrics “mummy, I made it,” we’ve been subtly co-opted into this idea that our very sense of self-worth, is dependent on reaching some magical dreamland.

But this is merely an illusion. One that, I regret to say, I succumbed to for over four years. But while reaching a goal can radically improve the quality of your life, it’s not the end-all and be-all.

Let me use three big goals to show you why you will never “make it” and why you should be thankful:

  • After reading x amount of books in a year, it will be your job to internalize the lessons from what you read so that they lead to an improvement in your character.
  • You’ve gained ten pounds of muscle and feel great. Now you need to make sure you maintain your muscle mass, which means you’ll have to continue training at the gym, in some form, for the rest of your life.
  • Now that you’ve doubled your income, you’ll have to keep working at the same level to maintain your salary.

Life keeps moving forward, regardless of which destination you reach. Once you understand this, you can take goals off the pedestal.

Qualify your Goal to see if it’s a Compass Goal

Whenever you set yourself a goal, imagine you’re about to jump on a bike to set off to a new destination and ask yourself these four questions, before kicking your foot on the pedal:

The Compass Goals Checklist:

  1. Is this goal something I can see myself pursuing with excitement, despite its difficulty – does it give me rewards along the way?
  2. Can I write a set of daily or weekly actions that I’ll stick to consistently, adjusting them when necessary until I reach my goal?
  3. Do I have a way of measuring my progress (a compass)?
  4. Will I be okay with not getting the outcome I want because I recognize how much value this journey will provide me with regardless?

The last question (being okay with not reaching the result) helps you relieve an enormous amount of pressure. If you’re okay with not getting the result you want in advance, you don’t live in a make-it-or-break-it paradigm. Instead, you live in a playground that leaves you free to achieve something if you’re willing to do what it takes.

It’s okay to have burning desires, but they only help us if they’re tempered in the right way. Paradoxically, it’s only by letting go of the outcomes we seek (while working toward them) that we’re freer and likelier to achieve them.

If you answered yes to all these four questions, then you have successfully created a compass goal! Try to have between three to five per year at most!

What about deadlines?

With the common SMART goals approach, you’re told to set a deadline for each goal so that you’re stretched. But answering the four questions for each of your goals is more important than having a planned completion date.

Alas, use deadlines, but use them to fuel your goals rather than constrain you. Also, make sure you don’t give yourself too much time to achieve a goal in a year. The journey, similarly to riding a bike, is a lot more fun where you go faster—and that’s why deadlines are useful!

To Summarize the 4 Main Takeaways

  1. Understand the value of your goals; while the achievement counts for something, who you become along the way is more important. Don’t let your goals run you, run your goals.
  2. Realize there is no end-point; achieving goals doesn’t mean “you’ve made it.” You’ll always be striving for growth in different areas of your life.
  3. Every goal achieved brings with it a set of new responsibilities, so be willing to take those responsibilities in advance. Don’t choose a goal lightly.
  4. Qualify your goals with the four questions to determine if you have a traditional goal or a compass goal. A traditional goal will prod at your self-esteem and make you feel unfulfilled along the way. A compass goal is lighter and makes you enjoy the journey.

My Last Words

Over the last half a decade, I’ve come to learn that goals are only worth having if they can enrich our lives right now. Because how we consistently experience the present will always determine the beauty of what we reap.

If you work on a PC and you’re interested in learning how to improve the way you approach life, read my free book on Spiritual Productivity.

  • You’ll learn about how to split up your day into four chunks, so you worry less about external influences.
  • You’ll discover the small hacks that will take your productive work on the PC to the next level.
  • And much more…

 Samy Felice is a writer who brings meaning to words. His Free Book explores how to make success easier. 


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

5 Responses to Forget SMART Goals and Try This Instead

  1. mmse says:

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