Are DUMB Goals Better Than SMART Goals?

If you’ve ever read anything related to achievement, motivation or personal development, you’ve no doubt come across the idea of Goal Setting. More often than not, the conversation revolves around setting SMART goals. This is an acronym for goals that are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Have you ever heard of DUMB goals? I hadn’t until I watched this video from Brendon Burchard, a public speaker and best-selling author of the recently released book, The Motivation Manifesto.  

In this video, Brendon says that our focus on SMART goals limits us to setting “realistic” goals that fail to inspire the human spirit. Instead, he suggests, we should set our sights much higher and focus on “moonshot” goals. Think changing the world. Think putting a man on the moon. Think serving millions of people.

Think DUMB Goals. According to Brendon, these are goals that are:

  • Dream-Driven
  • Uplifitng
  • Method-Friendly
  • Behavior-Driven

I have mixed feelings on this. There’s no doubt that Brendon is an amazing public speaker. As I watched the video, I could feel the energy surging through my body. That alone was well worth the 12 minutes it took to watch the video.

Still, his suggestion to establish unrealistic, “moonshot” goals doesn’t sit right with me. I agree that we need to set goals that inspire us to take consistent, daily action and persevere through the inevitable challenges and setbacks. But my experience and research tells me setting goals that are too far out of reach is – for most people – a recipe for failure.

But that’s just me. What’s your take on it?

There are 15 brilliant comments

  1. Hi Michael,

    I’m probably not as well versed in all this as you guys as I’ve just recently been looking into personal development and high achievement. But my opinion is – why do we need to choose between the two? Why not have both? Similar to what another poster has already said.

    DUMB goals give you that purpose, motivation and inspiration. Everyone needs them. You’ll have one or two of these and these would be long term. e.g. I want to solve world hunger.
    SMART goals are tiny steps that you would take to reach the above dreams. You’ll have loads of these and they would be short term. e.g. make a list of all charities and their contact details within the local area by tomorrow evening.

    Dreams cannot be realistic – it contradicts the very meaning. We should aim high and think big (DUMB) and we should construct plans to help us achieve those goals (SMART).

    I might be completely off but that was my feeling as I watched the video, and as I read your comments.

  2. I understand your point of view, however, I am more toward Brendan and his DUMB goals. If we confine ourselves to things we think we can achieve we may be cheating ourselves. We need to dream big. The book that comes to mind is Gifted Hands and then Think Big…if Ben Carson had not dared to dream…a dream which those around him would have said was unrealistic he would not be where he is today. Unrealistic is relative, what appears unrealistic to you may not be to me. It is not just matter of setting goals and then doing nothing, we have to be prepared to do what it takes to get what we want. I have found that by writing a list of things I want regardless of how outlandish that out of that list comes something that I have the ability to achieve.

    1. Thanks for the input, Michele. I believe it’s largely irrelevant if your goal seems unrealistic to someone else. The question is, does it seem realistic to you? And maybe “realistic” is not the best word to use. Maybe the better word is “possibility.” Does the goal seem possible to you? If deep in your heart, you don’t believe the goal is possible, it’s unlikely that you’ll put in the time and effort necessary to realize it.

      Perhaps you’re familiar with the psychological construct known as self-efficacy. This is a fundamental theory in psychology that says our beliefs about our ability to complete tasks and goals greatly impacts our motivation to pursue the goal.

  3. My occupation is a project manager. As such, any project, can be categorised as a goal. Before you start a project, you have to understand what the project is going to give you, what the risks are and what issues are in your way to achieving success. Similarly in life, we should think through what we want to achieve from our goal and the likelihood of success. OK it’s good to take risks now and again but if your goal it’s a non-starter then why waste your time.

  4. I have found over the years, that whenever I set a goal, then achieve it, I can go into a real funk — unless I set another goal which stretches me even more. Recently, we did a bit RE Investor expo, with whole host of excellent speakers. We had record involvement with speakers and vendors, and near record for attendance. And we even made the best profits ever, yet … immediately afterwords, I felt almost depressed. The endorphins were depleted, and I think this is the point that Brendan B. is making, as does Tony Robbins, Jim Collins, and many others. We have to set some D.U.M.B. goals, some BHAG’s that REALLY stretch us, otherwise, our list just seem like menial labor which is inadequate to stimulate the mind of a true innovator. Make sense?

    1. Thanks for the input Andrew. Well-said, and I believe this makes sense for some folks; the “high-achievement” crowd perhaps. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but I believe most people (including me) don’t fall into that category. For these folks, I contend that it’s best to focus on realistic, achievable goals, at least initially. Then perhaps build up to the “moonshot” goals that Brendon talks about.

  5. I agree with setting motivating goals that stretch you. However, to accomplish “dream driven” goals you have to translate them into SMART goals. Does this guy think that eradicating malaria doesn’t require painstaking long term planning and measurement? This whole concept is ridiculous to me. Oh, I do like the idea of behavior driven triggers, but that is nothing new.

    1. I have a different view. DUMB goals are more important. Yes, you need smart goals to get there, but without DUMB goals I have to ask, what’s the point? Without that larger vision or dream, how can you be a good leader? How can you inspire others? You can’t. I don’t think that Burchard’s point was that you don’t use Smart goals. The point he was making is that smart goals are vastly overvalued in our society – and that’s true in my experience.

      1. Thanks for the input Jon.

        You ask, “without DUMB goals, what’s the point?”

        To me, the point is to set goals that stretch and inspire you, but are also within the realm of possibility (based on the resources at your disposal).

      2. Michael, if you are like me and serve a mighty God, the same God that created the universe then you have been created in His image. When I think in those terms there is nothing I can’t accomplish with His help!

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