When SMART Goals Make You Stupid
In project-management, the concept of SMART goals is highly touted as a way of setting objectives in a way that makes it easy to test whether or not you have succeeded. As a quick review, SMART is an acronym for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related.
Working with my clients, I often find that they are familiar with the concept of SMART goals and that it doesn’t work for them. The format strikes them as impossible to reconcile with their overarching goal of writing a meaningful novel, getting more gigs, or painting a series of found objects. They know from past experience that the creative process is usually non-linear and their temperaments resist constraint.
When faced with a suggestion that they create specific, measurable, realistic goals, many of my clients without deadlines panic, fearing that setting such goals will take away the big picture. And that fear creates anxiety that often manifests as a creative block.
Keep the Big Picture in Sight
The aspirational goal of a beautiful or meaningful art work is what drives many of my clients to create. In many cases, it is the very nature of that goal to be intangible and hard to measure.
Without that larger, abstract goal, the whole project becomes meaningless. Creating something that cannot be finished in a single session requires maintaining a vision of the desired end.
For many of my clients, the word goal has to refer to the big picture, the abstract desire to create something deep and meaningful or beautiful. To keep the big picture in sight, they need to avoid SMART goals and embrace their sublime aspirations.
Have a Plan
But, creators must have a plan. Without a plan, the aspirational goal becomes overwhelming and creates potential for creative blocks. Without a plan, it can be hard to claim that progress is being made during the portions of the process that require incubation, research, dreaming of options, playing with an approach that ends up not working, and the other parts of the process that do not result in specific, tangible results.
In addition, there is psychological stability in a plan. Think of Yoda’s famous words, “There is no try, only do;” the plan is the commitment to doing. The plan is the action will lead to the goal.
Many creative people struggle with creating plans because they do not want to stifle themselves when creative inspiration strikes. If, for example, the plan was to write a particular scene that day and they are inspired to write a different scene, there is a battle between following the inspiration and working the less inspiring material. The inspiration usually wins, and if the plan is not flexible enough to accommodate the inspiration, this can generate conflict within the writer about the value of plans.
However, plans are the antidote to a lack of initial inspiration. Many people find that although they aren’t conscious of inspiration before beginning work, inspiration comes when they start working. Working actors have the advantage of a rehearsal schedule. When they show up at rehearsal, the work begins, and creativity wakes up even if it was slumbering before rehearsal. People working on solo projects or projects without an inherent schedule have to create a plan that encourages the inspiration to flow.
What Does a Good Plan Look Like?
A good plan allows flexibility for inspiration while also requiring work when ideas are not spontaneously flowing before the creative session. For many successful artists, this simply consists of a commitment to put in a certain amount of time working.
Some examples of good plans:
- Write something every day.
- Sketch one object every day.
- Improvise at my piano for 10 minutes every day.
- Dance for 30 minutes every day.
- Write for an hour first thing in the morning.
- Take 3 photographs every day.
Do you have a plan for working towards your goals?
What stops you from committing to a plan?