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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.

    More by this author

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    Last Updated on March 13, 2019

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    How to Get out of a Rut: 12 Useful Ways to Get Unstuck

    Have you gotten into a rut before? Or are you in a rut right now?

    You know you’re in a rut when you run out of ideas and inspiration. I personally see a rut as a productivity vacuum. It might very well be a reason why you aren’t getting results. Even as you spend more time on your work, you can’t seem to get anything constructive done. While I’m normally productive, I get into occasional ruts (especially when I’ve been working back-to-back without rest). During those times, I can spend an entire day in front of the computer and get nothing done. It can be quite frustrating.

    Over time, I have tried and found several methods that are helpful to pull me out of a rut. If you experience ruts too, whether as a working professional, a writer, a blogger, a student or other work, you will find these useful. Here are 12 of my personal tips to get out of ruts:

    1. Work on the small tasks.

    When you are in a rut, tackle it by starting small. Clear away your smaller tasks which have been piling up. Reply to your emails, organize your documents, declutter your work space, and reply to private messages.

    Whenever I finish doing that, I generate a positive momentum which I bring forward to my work.

    2. Take a break from your work desk.

    Get yourself away from your desk and go take a walk. Go to the washroom, walk around the office, go out and get a snack.

    Your mind is too bogged down and needs some airing. Sometimes I get new ideas right after I walk away from my computer.

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    3. Upgrade yourself

    Take the down time to upgrade yourself. Go to a seminar. Read up on new materials (#7). Pick up a new language. Or any of the 42 ways here to improve yourself.

    The modern computer uses different typefaces because Steve Jobs dropped in on a calligraphy class back in college. How’s that for inspiration?

    4. Talk to a friend.

    Talk to someone and get your mind off work for a while.

    Talk about anything, from casual chatting to a deep conversation about something you really care about. You will be surprised at how the short encounter can be rejuvenating in its own way.

    5. Forget about trying to be perfect.

    If you are in a rut, the last thing you want to do is step on your own toes with perfectionist tendencies.

    Just start small. Do what you can, at your own pace. Let yourself make mistakes.

    Soon, a little trickle of inspiration will come. And then it’ll build up with more trickles. Before you know it, you have a whole stream of ideas.

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    6. Paint a vision to work towards.

    If you are continuously getting in a rut with your work, maybe there’s no vision inspiring you to move forward.

    Think about why you are doing this, and what you are doing it for. What is the end vision in mind?

    Make it as vivid as possible. Make sure it’s a vision that inspires you and use that to trigger you to action.

    7. Read a book (or blog).

    The things we read are like food to our brain. If you are out of ideas, it’s time to feed your brain with great materials.

    Here’s a list of 40 books you can start off with. Stock your browser with only the feeds of high quality blogs, such as Lifehack.org, DumbLittleMan, Seth Godin’s Blog, Tim Ferris’ Blog, Zen Habits or The Personal Excellence Blog.

    Check out the best selling books; those are generally packed with great wisdom.

    8. Have a quick nap.

    If you are at home, take a quick nap for about 20-30 minutes. This clears up your mind and gives you a quick boost. Nothing quite like starting off on a fresh start after catching up on sleep.

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    9. Remember why you are doing this.

    Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do, and after a while we become jaded. A quick refresher on why you even started on this project will help.

    What were you thinking when you thought of doing this? Retrace your thoughts back to that moment. Recall why you are doing this. Then reconnect with your muse.

    10. Find some competition.

    Nothing quite like healthy competition to spur us forward. If you are out of ideas, then check up on what people are doing in your space.

    Colleagues at work, competitors in the industry, competitors’ products and websites, networking conventions.. you get the drill.

    11. Go exercise.

    Since you are not making headway at work, might as well spend the time shaping yourself up.

    Sometimes we work so much that we neglect our health and fitness. Go jog, swim, cycle, whichever exercise you prefer.

    As you improve your physical health, your mental health will improve, too. The different facets of ourselves are all interlinked.

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    Here’re 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).

    12. Take a good break.

    Ruts are usually signs that you have been working too long and too hard. It’s time to get a break.

    Beyond the quick tips above, arrange for a 1-day or 2-days of break from your work. Don’t check your (work) emails or do anything work-related. Relax and do your favorite activities. You will return to your work recharged and ready to start.

    Contrary to popular belief, the world will not end from taking a break from your work. In fact, you will be much more ready to make an impact after proper rest. My best ideas and inspiration always hit me whenever I’m away from my work.

    Take a look at this to learn the importance of rest: The Importance of Scheduling Downtime

    More Resources About Getting out of a Rut

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Earle via unsplash.com

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