Author and podcast host Emily Ladau wants you to consider trading "S.M.A.R.T." goals for something a little more fun.
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If you've set out to achieve a goal literally ever in your life, you've likely heard about the S.M.A.R.T. acronym. Used by high school athletics coaches, fitness pros, business mavens, psychologists, and professional motivation gurus alike, this acronym has long spelled out the secret sauce to setting — and achieving — a goal.

In case you don't remember, S.M.A.R.T. typically stands for the following (slightly different versions have circulated through the years, such as swapping "achievable" for "attainable" or "assignable," but the sentiment largely remains the same).

  • Specific: target a specific area for improvement
  • Measurable: quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress
  • Achievable: it's possible to attain this end result
  • Realistic: state what results can realistically be achieved given the resources you have available
  • Timely: specify when the results will be achieved

It's unclear exactly who first created this strategy, but many clues point to George T. Doran's 1981 article titled "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives" published in Management Review (AMA Forum) as one of the first documented examples. It appears it was first adapted to apply in business settings, but it's been co-opted as a goal-crushing strategy that can extend to all areas of life, from building a more consistent reading habit to finally working out as much as you say you want.

But Emily Ladau, author of Demystifying Disability and host of The Accessible Stall podcast, thinks it's about time you rethink this whole S.M.A.R.T. thing.

"It's time we acknowledge that given the state of *everything*, we could all benefit from being kinder to ourselves," she wrote in an Instagram caption on January 5. "So, I'm not setting 'SMART' goals this year, despite all the 'expert' advice to the contrary. I know this won't be everyone's vibe, and that's okay. But for me, 2022 is the year for FUN goals."

She then went on to outline her new, F.U.N. strategy for goals this year:

  • Flexible: life happens, things change, goals shift.
  • Uplifting: bettering myself isn't a punishment. It's a process that should feel good, even when it's challenging.
  • Numberless: nothing will be radically different if I read 29 books this year instead of 30.

"I'm still going to be just as focused on progress and committed to social justice activism as I've always been," she wrote. "But this year, I'm doing it in a way that takes off some of the pressure and actually serves me so that in turn, I may better serve others."

Thanks to enduring an ongoing global pandemic, it's probably about time you consider adopting Ladau's mindset. After all, like she said, bettering yourself shouldn't be a punishment. In fact, one of the most important things to learn in your lifelong journey of self-growth and personal development is that shame doesn't get you anywhere. Rather, learning to approach your own weaknesses and misgivings with grace is one of the most important lessons and tools you can reap from self-awareness and growth. (See: The Guide to Self-Growth That's Not About Chasing Perfection)

"When you're developing yourself, you should not be focused on being perfect in societal standards; instead, you should be aiming to discover what brings you the most joy and makes you feel the most fulfilled in your life," explains licensed mental health counselor, Marisa Hendrickson, M.A. previously told Shape. And that means "freeing yourself and your mind from the expectations of others," she says — including all those goals you feel pressured to make and complete because society says they're a requirement for being a productive or optimal member of society.

The reality is — whether the business-related origins of this S.M.A.R.T. goal strategy are legit or not — this kind of goal-getting mindset is rooted in hustle culture, the same culture that's leading so many people to burnout.

If you feel motivated to set and go after a goal, more power to you. Truthfully, the motivation to accomplish a goal can do wonderful things for plenty of people, giving them a sense of purpose. "Intention setting is empowering," Melissa Maxx, a certified mindfulness coach, previously told Shape. "Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstance, you become the conscious creators of your days and your life."

But, by no means should you feel the need to squeeze every hour of your life for productivity. Are you checking those boxes and itemizing those hours because you want to or because you feel like you need to in order to "use your time wisely" and ultimately prove that you're not a failure?

Read for fun. Work out because you have energy and feel like moving. Eat vegetables because they can taste freakin' good. Journal because it helps calm your mind. And if it makes you feel like shit, stop doing whatever "it" is.

That's the energy Ladau is serving up this year, and it's something everyone can likely benefit from, for the rest of this pandemic-y year — and for the rest of time.