At some point in your life, someone will tell you that you need SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. Anyone who has ever failed to reach a goal will recognize that, while these qualities are all helpful, they do little to help anyone accomplish what they want—or are capable of.
Once a friend of mine was talking about his goals for the coming year. He wanted to increase his revenue by 20 percent. The problem with a goal of 20 percent is that it doesn't tell you much about the goal. If your business is doing $100,000 annually, an increase of 20 percent is easily accomplished. If you are doing $5 billion in revenue, you need another billion. In this case, my friend was doing $10 million. He knew he could do the additional $2 million in the following year. It was clearly achievable, which was the problem.
Setting Achievable Goals
Having heard my friend suggest that he was going to increase sales by 20 percent, I suggested that his goal was inadequate. He wasn't going to need to change anything to reach his goal. When asked what I thought his goal should be, I suggested $20 million, doubling his existing revenue. He asked me, "How am I going to double the business in a year?" He had asked the right question.
As he thought through what he would have to do, he started making a list of everything that would be necessary to double his business, starting with adding salespeople, acquiring contracts with larger clients, and changing a number of business processes to support the required doubling of transactions.
My friend committed to the $20 million and failed to achieve it. Instead, he did a little over $17 million, $5 million more than if he settled for his original goal.
The Problem with Achievable Goals
The problem with achievable goals is that they don't require you to make the necessary changes to reach your full potential. There is no power in setting a goal you know you can deliver. A goal should create a sense of trepidation, some fear that would cause you to ask yourself, "How am I going to do that?"
Whether your goal is growing sales, scaling a business, losing weight, or running a marathon, if it doesn't require you to change something, it is impotent and has no power. Any goal that doesn't lead you to recognize that what you are doing now isn't going to be enough isn't worthy of your time and energy.
Replacing Achievable Goals with Aspirational Goals
You are better off setting an aspirational goal, one that isn't going to be easy to achieve. Sometimes described as a "stretch goal," an aspirational goal is one that has the power to make you change. Because you are not pursuing what you know you can achieve, you are forced to grow and change to deliver the result.
The aspirational goal will first cause you to recognize that you don't know exactly what you will need to do to produce the desired outcome. The aspirational goal will cause your mind to start working. You will ask yourself questions as you start to figure out how you could accomplish the goal. Over time, you'll come up with answers, some helpful, others not helpful. Eventually, you'll come up with some sort of plan, even if it is only a starting point.
Another Reason to Avoid Achievable Goals
Those who fear setting aspirational goals must confront the fact that their goal has already been achieved and exceeded by dozens, hundreds, or thousands of other people and other companies. Your aspirational goal has already been proven to be achievable, even though you haven't yet achieved it.
What one person or company can do, so can another. But you have little chance of reaching your goal if it doesn't motivate you to change what you do, how you do it, and whose help will be critical to bringing the future result forward.
Whatever you want is on the other side of the changes you must make. This is why you shouldn't accept an achievable goal.
The Power in Failing to Reach Your Goals
You are better off setting a goal too high and missing it than setting a goal you know you can achieve. Even when you fail to reach the goal on the first try, the changes that you make to pursue your aspirational goal will almost certainly produce a result far greater than what would have been possible with an achievable goal.
There is no reason to be discouraged by not reaching your goal when the delta between the impotent goal and the aspirational is large. The story at the beginning of this post had delta of $5 million dollars, the difference between $17 million and $12 million.
Setting Goals Worth Pursuing
The best goals are the ones that cause you to grow. Even if you miss your goal, you will be on the path to becoming someone who can eventually reach that goal and follow up by setting even greater goals.
If you are doing the same thing you have always done and producing the same results, you need to set a goal so large that it causes you to rethink everything.