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Goodbye SMART GOALS: The Science of Goal Setting In 2022

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable."

Seneca, the OG high-performance-guru, philosopher, and stoic uttered those profound words around the time the New Testament was being written.

About 1800 years later another cool cat said much the same thing:

If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.”

(Do you know who said that and when? Let me know and I'll send you a little special sumthin' sumthin'.)

Seneca’s point is that setting goals is vital to your success in life.

Without goals, you can work like crazy, grind all day, and spin your wheels with nothing to show for it but exhaustion and frustration.

But jotting down just any ol' goal in a notebook you then throw into a desk drawer for a year—or three—doesn't just magically cure what ails you.

You’ve got to set the right goals, and set goals the right way.

The question is, how do you do that?

Related Post: The 12 Week Year

12 week year goal setting review by Wes Schaeffer, The Sales Whisperer®

The good news is there is solid neuroscience that shows us how to do goal setting correctly.

Back in late 2020, on an episode of Flow Research Collective Radio, Steven Kotler, Dr. Brent Hogarth, and Rian Doris discussed the science of goal setting.

In a nutshell, they discussed...

  • Why the “A” in SMART goals destroys your results.
  • How big you should make your goals (and how big is too big).
  • The 3 types of goals and how to set and achieve each type.
  • Why NOT aiming big is physically bad for you.
  • Why it's old school to share your goals.


Your Best Day Ever


The "Attainable" Part of SMART Goal Setting Should Be Ditched NOW!

Here's the deal, when you set a goal to bring about world peace, the immensity of the goal can crush you, or sustain you and those who know, like, and trust you for generations to come.


While solving hunger, curing cancer, or bringing about world peace might be a smidge too big for you, the point remains that the "Bannister Effect" is a real thing.

Once the "impossible" is achieved, it becomes the norm.

Just because something has never been achieved or attained, doesn't mean it can't be attained.

We are too modest. We think too small. We're taught not to brag or toot our own horns, but if we don't toot our own horns, there is no music.

We are poor judges of what is possible because our education system beats creativity and big thinking out of us, and has since the Industrial Revolution.

We also don't want to think and dream big because that would require daily work, effort, and sacrifice.

Don't be lulled into a sense of complacency and sloth. Refuse the bread and circus.

Set big goals and get to work making them a reality. 

Your belief tilts the perspective and helps you see more opportunities.


Why It's Old School To Share Your Goals

Because real bad boys move in silence, i.e., #2 of Biggie Smalls "Ten Crack Commandments," "Never let them know your next move." 


When you talk about your goals, you feel like you accomplished something and it releases dopamine, which reduces your motivation to go after them.

Mission-level goals sound all high-minded and altruistic. You get rewarded for speaking about them so it becomes a selfish equation. You're just here to get your own high from flapping your gums at my expense.

Your Mind Wants—Needs—Hard Goals

You can take what life throws at you so set high, hard goals.

You don't understand yourself because you don't know yourself and a big part of yourself is your brain, which you don't know jack-diddly-squat about, okay?

So have a cause greater than yourself, but allow yourself to ease into this. You have to go slow to go fast in peak performance.

Give yourself time to do these deep dives to ensure your goals are a great fit.

You'll accelerate once you define your purpose and are clear that it is right for you.

This gives you hope, but you must start small to cultivate it.

Hope is a sneaky drug that can help you get a lot of effort out of someone, including yourself, so give yourself hope by setting great goals.

"Never trust the dopamine." It's exciting and fun and meant to get you into the game with a big high, but passion is built into purpose.

Follow the passion recipe, i.e., turn curiosity into passion and passion into purpose.

We could go on forever discussing the brain, but the important thing to realize is that your brain wants to keep you alive.

In important ways, it does so, insofar as goal setting is concerned, by filtering, which is done based on fear and...goals.

Fear Filtering

Your brain filters by fear first because the things we fear as humans are usually the things that can harm and/or kill us, so it makes sense to start here.

However, we allow our caveman brains to exert too much control over our 21st-century brains, which holds you back from getting into flow and reaching the stars.

So if you can reduce, eliminate, and/or move beyond the fear you'll notice you have access to more new information, which is what you need to achieve your goals.

Goal Filtering

When you're not living in fear your good goals will also help your brain filter the massive volume of information thrown at you every second of every day in the "real world."

Goals are part of the story you tell yourself and when your goals are appropriate and sufficiently scary, they can and will propel you to greatness.

However, there is a recipe for goal setting. Start where the science starts. Motivation gets you into the game and goals tell you where you're trying to go.

When it comes to the science, there are three goal levels that encompass the seven neural networks of drive...

Three Types of Goals

  • High-hard goals: 1-5 year goals that feed into your MTPs. Your high-hard goals should scare the pants off of you but are attainable, even if it takes many years.
  • Clear goals, i.e. your daily goals. Clear goals for your daily to-do list should be the things you can be excellent at in a day. Be deliberate, clear, and pithy. Write a clear goal for your day with most of your goals being process goals you can cross off and release the dopamine and create momentum over time.
  • Chunked goals: Brian Moran discusses this in his book, "12 Week Year," which I review on this blog post, and then I got to interview him on The Sales Podcast.

The seven neural networks of drive are

  1. A grief/panic
  2. Care/nurturing
  3. Lust
  4. Play
  5. Social bonding
  6. Morality
  7. Seeking system

Set Goals To Win

There are two steps to becoming gritty.

  1. Do the work.
  2. Do the work so often it becomes automatic and you believe it and become it.

Goals must be clear and motivational. 

Goals show up when you do THE WORK, i.e., "Faith without works is dead." James 2:17

Reliable, repeatable, authentic. 

"I can't con myself into hope."

Play communicates social culture and values. It's an instruction in morality.

Underneath that, we have powerful reward chemicals.

Mission-level goals are process goals and they need to be believable and actionable.

In uncertain times it's a different process to set goals.

Goal setting is a key component in resilience.

Determine the pain to get there and ask what makes this okay six months from now?

Stack your practices to solve multiple problems at once.

The best of the best are busy and want to achieve great things.

How often should you review your goals?

If you say it out loud, it's a contract.

If it goes on a to-do list, it's going to get done.

The more you don't reach your goals...the more you don't reach your goals.

The conscious mind is the mind that sets goals. The unconscious mind achieves your goals.

Without good goals, your brain can't filter reality as well as it can.

Goals are part of the story you tell yourself.

Extrinsic motivators are fine until basic needs are met then intrinsic goals are next.

You must be safe and secure, otherwise, the anxiety is too great.

Fame is not your choice. It's all about other people choosing to notice you.

Should goals be selfish?

Is it selfish to help a lot of people if that gives you power and money to do what you love, which just so happens to be in alignment with deepening your goals?

Market like you mean it.
Now go sell something.