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Get D.U.M.B.! The Value of Unattainable Goals

Get D.U.M.B.! The Value of Unattainable Goals

Get D.U.M.B.! The Value of Unattainable Goals

    With the year winding down, many people are turning their eyes towards the future. January 1st looms, and the new year always holds the promise of a fresh start, another go-round and another try at the golden ring.

    It’s a time for taking stock, filing away the lessons of our successes and failures over the last 12 months and pinning down our hopes and dreams for the 12 months to come. Some people make resolutions, feeling in the renewal of the yearly cycle the power to remake themselves to a better plan: thinner, healthier, more focused, wealthier, smarter… happier.

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    Others set goals. “By this time next year, I will have done x.” Lots of people will tell you that the key to setting smart goals is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. Heck, I’ve said that the key to goal-setting is setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. Those are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound; “lose 10 pounds by the end of February” rather than “lose weight”, for example.

    There’s a lot to be said for that approach, of course. The idea behind S.M.A.R.T. goals is that it gives you something concrete and realistic to work towards, and the brain seems to like that sort of thing. Vague goals give the tricksy brain too much wiggle room: “Hey, I lost weight. Only 2 pounds, but cool! I guess that means I can order an extra double-caramel fudge-nut brownie vanilla sundae surprise tonight!” Unreasonable goals simply set us up for failure, and the tricksy brain will take advantage of that, too: “Awww, I gained 2 pounds. I’m never going to lose 400 pounds this week. I might as well order an extra double-caramel fudge-nut brownie vanilla sundae surprise tonight….”

    The Power of D.U.M.B. Goals

    There’s nothing wrong and almost everything right with S.M.A.R.T. goals. You should set a bunch of reasonable goals for yourself and throw yourself into them with all your might. Absolutely.

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    But…

    I think there’s a place in our life for D.U.M.B. goals, too. Dangerously Unattainable, Monstrously Big goals. Goals that not only set us up for failure but virtually guarantee it. Great big audacious goals that make our friends think we’re crazy and our enemies think we’re… well, they think we’re crazy too.

    I’m not talking about make-believe goals, here – goals we have no intention of pursuing. Like “Marry Angelina Jolie” (it will happen!) or “Take over IBM and turn it into chain of shoe stores”. I’m talking about goals that fulfill our wildest dreams, goals that are maybe a little too big for us but not completely unattainable. The kind of goals that you have an outside chance of reaching, the kind where you can point to someone not all that different from yourself and say “Why her and not me?”

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    More importantly, I’m talking about real goals, goals you will throw yourself into, with every intention of reaching them even though the odds are against you. Goals like:

    • Triple my income.
    • Start a million-dollar company and show a profit by the end of the year.
    • Invent something everyone needs and nobody’s ever made.
    • Start a website and get 100,00 visitors a day by June.

    If you follow the logic of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting, D.U.M.B. goals are a very bad idea. They aren’t A – Attainable. They’re Dangerously Unattainable, Damn-near Unattainable, Deliciously Unattainable. You’d have to be an idiot to set D.U.M.B. goals – you’re just setting yourself up for failure, and failure, it is implied, is a Bad Thing Indeed.

    But I wonder. Has anyone ever reached success without failing along the way? Haven’t the biggest successes had – or at least risked – the biggest failures? Here’s one, off the top of my head: in the early ‘80s, a young Bill Gates stole an operating system and walked into IBM’s offices and told them to buy it from him. I mean, really – some punk kid tried to sell an operating system to the world’s leading computer manufacturers! That’s D.U.M.B.!

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    Here’s the thing: failing is good for you. OK, not every failure – failing to stop at a 4-way intersection when there’s a semi truck with its breaks out bearing down on the cross street probably isn’t good for you. But in most things, it is failure that teaches us the lessons we need to succeed.

    The emotional cost of failing to attain our goals is great, I won’t deny that. But what is the psychic cost of failing against the psychic cost of not setting goals beyond our abilities out of fear and lack of confidence in ourselves? That is, what is the value in not trying because we fear, before the first step is taken, that we’ll fail?

    Indeed, what are we setting ourselves up for by playing it S.M.A.R.T.? A life of coloring inside the lines, of keeping all our ducks in a row so that someone else can have the pleasure of picking them off in the shooting gallery?

    I’m not telling you to abandon S.M.A.R.T. goals. Frankly, if you want to get something done, S.M.A.R.T. is the way to go. But make sure you also play D.U.M.B. once in a while. Set your tidy attainable goals and then set a couple more beside them, a couple of goals three or four or 20 or 2,000 steps out of your reach. Go for the gold, shoot for the stars, cliché for the cliché!

    This year, the smart money is on D.U.M.B. goals.

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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