compass on hand better than smart goals

Right direction beats SMART goals

I wish you a Happy New Year first of all!

I hope you made it through the holidays and now you’ve probably set your New Year’s resolutions. And this is exactly what I want to talk about in this post: Why a simple direction beats every SMART goal, when it comes to long-term objectives.

You can use this simple (not easy) strategy to form your resolutions and definitely make them come true. It is exactly the opposite to what productivity-gurus say: We do not set a clear goal and don’t set a deadline. This year, we’ll test the 52 steps way.

Why SMART is not always smart

You probably heard about the acronym SMART, when they talk about goal setting. SMART stands for:






At work, I get this kind of objectives every January. So, next week, when I come back to the office, my boss will present my very SMART objectives for 2016. The desired results will be precisely described (S), they’ll have some metrics to evaluate in the end, if I met them or not (M). From my boss’s perspective they will be achievable (A) and more than just relevant (R) and they will for sure get a due date (T).

Maybe in business this is best practice, but in private life and when it’s about improving some aspect of your world, things get foggy and precise plans are just written to fail.

Choose a direction, instead of a clear destination.

The only thing that stays from SMART is the R – the direction or rather vision needs to be relevant to you. All the other points are obsolete. A long-term vision cannot be specific or measurable – all the possible goals become just milestones on your way. ‘Achievable’ is also something from a static point of view – you will push your limits in the process and things that seemed impossible once, will become achievable at some level or time. And finally: if the way is the goal, time boundaries become senseless.

But be careful: A direction alone doesn’t take you anywhere. You have to put one foot in front of the other. That means you have to take regular actions! That’s basically what’s behind 52 steps…

Example: learn a language

A good example is learning a foreign language. I used to practice French with Assimil (book + mp3). Their strategy is that you do one exercise per day and once per week you have a summary chapter where you recap and run through the six previous exercises. The daily exercises become a routine after a while and the weekly summaries are the improvement steps that lift you onto the next level.

I think you can apply this also to other areas, like: weekly Yoga classes in the studio backed by daily sun salutes at home. Or play your guitar every day and try to learn one new song per week.

Additional benefits

The “direction approach” has some other advantages as well:

As you only see the current step and maximum the following two, you ‘feel’ your schedule and do the work. Contrary, a deadline somewhere in the future doesn’t tell you what to do now and you don’t experience any time pressure until it’s too late.

Plus, as written very well in his post, James Clear sees the chance of feeling failed, when you don’t hit the deadline although you’ve made great progress along the way. With regular improvement steps into the chosen direction, you will have tiny success stories every week (see the ‘end of week’ section in your 52 steps template) and sooner or later achieve your goal. Then you will celebrate a little bit. And the following week you will go on and do even better.


When it comes to long-term objectives, don’t set a SMART goal, choose a direction instead. Write down the critical next steps and do one after another on a weekly basis. If daily routine actions are applicable, define them and stick to your schedule.

In the end, doing regular steps is much more valuable than a perfect planning. Or as Chris Guillebeau says:

choose forward motion

That’s it from me… Now it’s up to you: Please see the direction approach as an experiment for 2016 and just give it a try. Let me know, how great it worked for you in the comments or via email.


Image source: Kendall Lane,