I used to work in a place that helped people with mental health problems who wished to make a transition to the work force. In sessions with my clients, we would identify some critical things they would need to do to have to meet their employment needs. We would set goals. More specifically, we would set SMART goals. As with everything else spelled in capital letters, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measured, Accountable, Realistic and Timely.

It made sense to my clients. If a client wanted to find a job, they might need a resume, so we could establish all the information they would need to round up to get that off the ground. The setting of goals also became an accounting issue. Funders of my program were interested in seeing that people were making some progress, so we would account for goals set, goals partially attained, and goals accomplished. If there were no placements over a recording period, at least there were numbers – even if some of my recording and reporting techniques rivalled the wild guesses I habitually make on my Income Tax.

I got a lot of mileage out of goals and SMART goal setting. I use SMART Goals in personal training to help my clients get stronger faster. More recently, I used SMART Goal setting in an article for alive magazine  where I proposed using  goals as a basis for constructing a Health Action Plan. I modelled that after Stephen Harper’s Economic Action Plan which supposedly dragged us out of the last recession. I got a lot of mileage out of goal setting – even if I was consistently accused of not knowing what I was talking about.

Everything was going well. I was becoming Mister Goals. I was planning on holding workshops on goal setting with some of my clients when I went to the Linked In website and noticed that my friend Ray Williams just published an article saying that goal setting doesn’t work. 

The fundamental problem is that our brains don’t work that way. Williams, citing neuroscience research, says that the brain is motivated to seek rewards and avoid pain and discomfort. Goal setting involves behaviour change, and behaviour change involves risk. Risk means discomfort and the brain is motivated to avoid discomfort. Williams goes on to point out that the consequences of having goals and not managing to meet them may have more damaging effects than not having any goals at all.

He stated that many people confuse goals with intentions. When they say they have a goal of becoming rich or being in better shape, that these are not actually goals but intentions. But there are goals and there are goals. Williams is referring to stretch goals that are very difficult to attain. They are set high, and Williams points out that they lead to Ford Pintos and oil spill disasters. I once had a professor who told the class that he wasn’t going to be giving out any first class marks that year because one’s reach should always exceed one’s grasp.

I dropped that class and drove off in my Ford Pinto. I really didn’t see where Chaucer fit into the career plan of an archaeologist anyway – especially with a second class mark.

When it comes to Stretch goals, I agree with Ray Williams. When it comes to using goals to facilitate change to reach an intention or the end result of an economic action plan or a personal health and fitness plan, SMART Goals are the way to go.


Broderick, Mike (2010) “It’s Not Too Late to Keep Your Resolutions.” Alive #328 http://www.alive.com/7547a20a2.php?subject_bread_cramb=12


Williams, Ray (2011) “Why goal setting doesn’t work.”  Financial Post http://business.financialpost.com/2011/04/13/why-goal-setting-doesnt-work/


Mike Broderick is an Employment Specialist for the Neil Squire Society in Burnaby where he finds employment for people with physical disabilities. Part of this work means affiliation with the Vancouver Board of Trade where he is a member of the Ambassador Club, the Burnaby Board of Trade where he is a member of the Labour Task Force, the Tri Cities Chamber of Commerce where he is an active member of the 10X10 initiative, and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce. He does some work as a field Archaeologist and is a fitness instructor and frequent contributor of fitness humour articles to alive magazine in Port Coquitlam. You can reach him at home at michael_broderick@telus.net or at michaelb@neilsquire.ca. or at 604-464-4195.  If you’re looking for a career change, he is the Spin Doctor and can give you a resume makeover at competitive rates When he is not doing all this he lives in Port Coquitlam with his partner Cecelia.



  1. Sharon Says:

    So you do your taxes using the SWAG method. As good as any I’ve tried. Oh no, a Pinto! It didn’t blow up on you, did it? My folks used to have one and they’d get angry that I called it “The Amazing Exploding Car.”
    Great job, Mike, as always. I remember SMART from when I worked for WI. Admin used all the gimmicks to get us to work better and they usually worked. On the other hand, what was coming out of their offices…

  2. Sharon Corsaro Says:

    I like it Mike!

    Thanks for sharing… And I agree…

    Setting ear marks (goals) to get us along the path TO attain larger plans (greater intentions) is in fact, the whole notion of “baby stepping” to reach or unfold the vision we hold for changing or fulfilling our lives, our work and our world! I can’t imagine losing goals all together, as Ray Williams would seem to imply. Seems to me, we need some form of ear mark, so that we can experience small successes which in themselves propel us, motivate us, and give us energy toward, eventually attaining the larger successes of our greatest intentions!

    Appreciate the input, and in perfect timing, as I’m presently working on – dare I say – goal-setting! 🙂 It all works!

    Thank you ~
    Sharon @growinggold

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