Goals and Metrics Put in Context

The debate about how to set goals and determine “success” is quite well aligned with the debate over how to approach life itself. On one side, there are those who say “everything can be measured.” In places like the United States, only a fortunate few have never been asked to set SMART Goals.

The SMART Goal system

This goal setting method has plenty of support, especially in the world of business and personal development [1][2][3]. To be fair, setting goals in this manner does prevent them from becoming vague, disorganized, unrealistic pursuits where one can easily lose focus and have no idea when they have been achieved.

This is the path of the left-brained, the detail-oriented, the driven, often the successful, those who build things and guarantee quality.

After all, it is more effective to describe an athlete as someone who can run 100m in 10.4 seconds than to simply say this person is “really fast”, and it is easier to contextualize a video with 100 million views over one that is “really popular”.

However, those more vague terms represent the actual goal. People tend to think of those on the other side as the more artistic types.

However, there are plenty of people in more traditional and even corporate types of leadership critical of the extremely numeric style of goal setting exemplified by the SMART goal system [1][2][3]. They are criticized, and rightfully so, for possibly putting a cap on one’s activities and being too short-term in focus. Once the specific number is reached, what’s next? Is mile number 2,001 pointless?

What about the day after the year ends?

Perhaps more importantly, these goal setting systems are charged with lacking emotion and having no connection to the underlying reasons for the state of our live. Goals like riding 2,000 miles in a year have no connection to the manner in which habits and mentality truly shape a person’s life. In essence, they miss the center of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle.

Whether or not one believes that everything (or most things) can and should be measured depends on experience and personality. It’s where the focus is. There is no sensical way to create a quantitative measurement of watching a sunset over a lake while a distant wildfire slowly expands.

Many other areas of life, both professional and fun, ARE all about numbers and only numbers.

Whether or not any individual should set a specific measurable goal depends on their personality and situation. However, not in the manner that most would expect. A person can understand that the ultimate goal in life is to be happy, or fulfilled, but have no idea how to go about finding that happiness or fulfillment. Likewise, one can toil over quarterly numbers and annual targets but one day find themselves completely disconnected from any meaning behind what they are doing. Both these states are recipes for depression.

At any given time in life, what a person needs is the piece of the puzzle they are lacking. Therefore, it is the unfocused creative with a vague idea of wanting to “make the world a better place”, that could benefit from a goal like getting 10,000 people to listen to their podcast. Meanwhile, the highly driven analytically-minded professional on the verge of burnout could benefit from laying off these numeric goals for a while and focusing on their mental state and underlying reason for wanting what they want.

After all, many of these experiences would not have been too much different had the year 2020 ended with only 1,900 logged miles, as opposed to the 2,200-ish it will likely end up at when the year ends.

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