When SMART Goals Aren’t Working, Dare to be Stupid

Published: October 16, 2023

by Justin Difazzio*

No, we’re not advising you to burn your candle at both ends, look a gift horse in the mouth, or make friends with mashed potatoes as the 1985 Weird Al hit suggests. But sometimes SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) can seem really daunting. If you’re doing iterative work, SMART goals can feel restrictive or overwhelming. That’s when it’s time to take a look at STUPID goals—that is, goals that are small, temporary, uncertain, purposeful, interesting, and disposable.

tiny figurine of a man standing on a pencil suspended on a book


Big goals are nice, but smaller goals help you track progress more satisfyingly. Your project might be a multi-stage process, but making milestones along the way allow you to see if you’re still on the right path, what might need to change, and how the future might look at this pace. Looking at the small details and setting goals to nail those means that bigger things will line up more easily and with fewer surprises.

asian woman on a green park bench looking at a map


Your goals don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes we spend so much time trying to craft the perfect end point for something that we never actually end up doing it. Instead, set temporary goals, a point to head toward that can be realigned or reimagined along the way. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re headed in the right direction no matter how many times you have to check the map.

black woman in a blue denim shirt on a blue background shrugging


You don’t always have to reach your goals. Failing to reach them can give you valuable insights for your next try. Setting uncertain goals means you’re always striving for them instead of strolling into an inevitable finish line. It keeps things exciting, fresh, and fun. If you could reach every one without effort, what kind of a goal is that?

burlap with a small strip peeling away with the word WHY revealed underneath


Know your reason for doing what you’re doing. Your goals should serve a purpose, whether that be coming up with a slew of new ideas, finishing a project, or just finding the right person to help. Make sure every goal you set no matter how SMART or STUPID they are aligns with your purpose.

top down POV shot of feet on a painted labyrinth path


Your goals should capture your interest, make you eager to explore, or give you something to learn. And if they aren’t interesting, find something about them to get interested in. You’re much more likely to achieve a goal if you’re eager to see what’s around the bend.

two small metal trash cans next to an armchair in a dark room


Sometimes a goal starts to feel like a millstone around your neck. When that’s the case, throw it away. Why hold on to something that’s making failure inevitable? Setting goals that are disposable allows you to pivot, to reimagine your task, and to come up with different milestones to aim for. If it is broke, DO fix it!

a hand placing the L tile on the end of four wooden tiles spelling GOAL

See? STUPID goals seem pretty smart, don’t they? When you do something that goes against the expectations of established knowledge, you never know what you’ll accomplish. SMART goals might be good for some people and some projects, but sometimes you have to dare to be STUPID—just don’t, as Weird Al advises, “stick your head in the microwave and give yourself a tan,” and you should be fine.

*Original concept by Rosco Schock, Jason Slingerland, Emily Vincent, Michael Wostbrock, Xoe Allred, Chris Michaud, Heather Newton, Jack Rosetree