An Alternative to S.M.A.R.T. Goals (which can suck sometimes)

Sixteen hours ago my sister, Lucia, posted these words to Facebook: "I am overcome with love and grief."

She was writing sweaty, dusty, tired, living out of a van for a week on the road following a team of cyclists who are racing across the U.S.A. Two days ago on her 30th birthday she woke up in a Wal-Mart parking lot. What a celebration.


She is crewing for a team of racers with the goal of raising $50,000 for brain cancer. 

They are failing at this S.M.A.R.T. goal.



They are almost completely finished with the journey but they are only half way to their fundraising goal. 

They could seem like losers -- dirty, tired, drifters hanging on to their sanity by a thread as they pursue a goal that they likely won't achieve. 

This is the fifth time Lucia has volunteered for team 3000 Miles to a Cure's Race Across America. She's in a peak emotional state  -- that is, fully alive, feeling all the love and grief and depth of human experience that we all long to feel. She's using her natural talents in service to a world-changing goal. She's connecting with people who, like her, have lost a loved-one to brain cancer and she's actively doing something important that is making a positive difference. She is winning at life. So is her team of cyclists. This is not just something that happened by fluke this week. This is how her life works.

I'm a big fan of the self-help genre and the business advice genre, both of which are really into a certain type of goal-setting. If you've ever looked up goal-setting advice, you'll have come across SMART goals (an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound).

The problem with SMART goals is that they are better for team projects in service to VALUES than they are to guide the overall trajectory of your life. When you use SMART goals to measure the value of your life or to decide whether or not to pursue an unexpected opportunity, they can can get you off-track. They can keep you playing small, saying "yes" to things that should be "no" and "no" to things that should be "yes." They can discourage you. They can become the be-all, end-all when they should be one tool in your arsenal. Achieving SMART goals won't make you happy in the long-term.

Living from well-examined and consciously chosen values brings lasting joy.

My sister Lucia is clearly not stuck in the S.M.A.R.T. goals framework. I've known her for her entire life.

She didn't dream of growing up to crew for a team of country-crossing bicyclists. She didn't set out to be a fundraiser for brain cancer researchers.  If someone had asked her ten years ago to write out SMART goals for the decade they wouldn't have included either of those things. Her steps are guided not strictly by goals, but by her values. 

My mom started 3000 Miles to a Cure almost five years ago with the goal of raising one million dollars for brain cancer research. She still hasn't reached that goal and doesn't know when she will. It's not a S.M.A.R.T. goal in that way. It motivates her, but it could also discourage her since she's been working on it for so long and making "slow" progress. The goal may change since it hasn't been achieved. After all, the larger mission is to cure brain cancer. 

I made up an acronym that is more useful than S.M.A.R.T. goals for making life-altering decisions and confronting opportunities. It fits the way life works more than S.M.A.R.T. goals. After all, life isn't a blank slate you fill with goals. It's a riot of opportunities you must navigate. In this culture of FOMO, (Fear Of Missing Out) you want to make sure you aren't missing out on great opportunities. Openness to what the universe has to offer you is important. On the other hand, you don't want to become trapped in "shiny object syndrome" -- chasing whim after whim based in dubious values without ever achieving something truly meaningful.

Enter M.A.V.E.N.

It's a useful framework for examining your values and making decisions. If your life feels "off," lacking in meaning, or somehow out of alignment, you may want to consciously choose M.A.V.E.N. values and allow your choices to serve what you really stand for.

M.A.V.E.N. stands for:

MEANINGFUL - I start from the why and embrace my reasons behind why this matters to me. What's the deep meaning that will keep me going.

ACTION-ORIENTED - I can identify small actions that will get me started living this value out right away. Like, right now. These actions will lead to motivation and more action. I am flexible and open to taking different actions that support my true values.

VERIFIED - I am honest with myself about my values (even if previously chosen unconsciously) and take full responsibility for the values that have gotten me to where I am in life right now. I confirm that my values are in my domain of responsibility -- they are about my choices, not those of other people. I may not be able to control what happens to me, but I can control my response.

This is probably the most important component, now that I think about it. Look at your life. If you think you value honesty, but find yourself lying, you don't value honesty. Identify what your true value is and try to change it to a more meaningful one. Values are hard to change, but it is possible, and I've seen it happen in the lives of the people I most admire. Believe it or not, changing values starts with taking a small action, usually an experiment, like telling the truth where you would normally tell a lie.

EMOTION / ENERGY - My values and choices today support my core target emotions -- how I want to feel in body, mind, and spirit.

NATURAL - I'm not developing my weak areas, but instead, am going with the flow and ease of my natural strengths as much as possible. There are always many paths to choose from -- I choose the one that aligns with my natural abilities and sensibilities. What I focus on grows, so I focus on serving, giving, creating, building, solving, or leading from my innate talents. When I develop my strengths I naturally excel.

One simple way to test MAVEN for yourself right now is to respond to an opportunity. Right now I'm inviting you to give money to 3000 Miles to a cure. 100% of your donation goes straight to fund cancer research. (Operating expenses are covered by earmarked donations).

Donate $50 here!

MEANING: Cure brain cancer (take a step to relieve global suffering and help scientists understand the human brain.) Honor the memory of a loved one or honor a friend fighting cancer.
ACTION: Click below and put in your credit card information.
VERIFY: If you value giving, connection, healing, and science, this is an opportunity to prove it. If you don't regularly give money or time to a cause like this or similar, you probably don't value these things. And that's okay -- I'm not here to judge your values.
EMOTION: This gift can help you feel generous, loving, connected, euphoric, and powerful.
NATURAL: If it feels natural to give, then this is a no-brainer.

I invite you to donate to help cure brain cancer today! Click here.