Goals : S.M.A.R.T. vs H.A.R.D. vs D.U.M.B…?


It seems that each time you pick up a book or an article that discusses goal setting you are inundated with mnemonic acronyms. There are the SMART goals, the HARD goals, the DUMB goals and the debates about which one is best. You will find articles like: SMART vs. HARD, Are DUMB goals better than SMART goals?, SMART goals are out and DUMB goals are in! It goes on and on, so I decided to do a little research into the different schools of thought.

The mnemonic acronym SMART goals first appeared in November 1981 in a paper written by George T. Doran titled “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives.” While there may be slight variations, SMART stands for:

Specific: Is the goal clearly defined? Do you know the what, when and why?

Measurable: How will you know when the goal has been achieved? Can you collect evidence to indicate that the goal has been accomplished?

Attainable: Do you possess the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to attain the goal?

Realistic: What are the conditions and resources necessary to attain the goal? Are these criteria in place? Does the goal actually matter?

Timely: Does the goal have a defined start and end date? This provides a deadline to work towards, establishing the importance of the goal.

For a long time SMART goals held the spotlight, providing a framework for goal setting in many disciplines. This method allows for a quick check to determine if the goal you have set is constructed in a useful way. Recently, SMART goals have been coming under fire for not being challenging enough, not allowing for the “dream big” approach.

The concept of hard goals, in so far as their comparison to soft goals, has been around for a long time. We know that we should set goals which are, in general, more specific and difficult to achieve and we should beware of soft goals which tend to be more general and ambiguous. But Mark Murphy went a step further when he introduced the mnemonic acronym HARD in his book HARD Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, published in 2010. No longer are hard goals referred to only in terms of difficulty level but now HARD stands for:

Heartfelt: Are you emotionally invested in the goal?

Animated: Is the goal vivid in your mind, do you have a clear vision in your imagination of what the goal looks like?

Required: Is the achievement of the goal a necessity, not an option? Does the goal have a sense of urgency?

Difficult: The tricky part! Is the goal hard enough to achieve that it will force you to tap into all of your knowledge and skills so that when it is achieved you will feel a true sense of accomplishment? But, be careful that it is so hard that you will find yourself so frustrated that you abandon the goal.

This brings to mind a quote by John F. Kennedy, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” More recently we could site the inspiring photographs being sent back to Earth from Pluto, this surely met the criteria of a difficult goal!

Now, lets take a look at DUMB goals. While there are many variations for this one, I chose best selling author, Brendon Burchard’s which stands for:

Dream-driven: Is the goal in line with the vision that you have for yourself, your life and the contributions you wish to make?

Uplifting: Does the goal inspire you, is it cloaked in positivity, does it uplift your spirit?

Method-friendly: Does the goal allow for you and perhaps others to achieve mastery? Will it improve your practice?

Behavior Triggered: Does the goal have a behavior trigger which will act as a reminder for you to continue to strive to reach it? To keep you engaged?

Each of these, SMART, HARD and DUMB, have their place, their own supporters and their skeptics. I continue to struggle with choosing just one. I am leaning towards the DUMB goals when it comes to long term goal setting, and the SMART and HARD goals when it comes to short term. I like the flexibility of the HARD goals but I also like the more analytical approach of SMART goals. Either way, the process of setting goals is a powerful exercise, regardless of which approach you choose. It can benefit you personally and professionally, help you to articulate your vision, motivate you, provide you with direction and when you achieve a goal, the accomplishment will be authentically fulfilling.

I think I will challenge myself to design my own mnemonic acronym and hopefully, in the coming weeks, I will be able to report back to get input. Now, to set my goal of designing a new mnemonic acronym for goal setting, which current method will I choose?


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