Get D.U.M.B! The value of unattainable goals.

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  • 08 Apr 2024
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As the year comes to a close, many individuals are looking ahead. January 1st approaches, and the new year always promises a fresh start, another go-round, and another chance for the golden ring.

It's a time to reflect on our triumphs and failings during the previous year, as well as to set goals and objectives for the coming year. Many people make resolutions to improve their health, prosperity, and happiness throughout the new year. 

Others set goals. "By this time next year, I will have done x." Many individuals will tell you that the secret to making smart objectives is to use S.M.A.R.T. goals. I've even stated that the secret to goal setting is to set S.M.A.R.T. goals. These are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound goals, such as "lose 10 pounds by the end of February" rather than "lose weight".

Of course, there are several benefits to that strategy. S.M.A.R.T. goals are intended to provide you with something solid and realistic to work for, and the brain appears to enjoy this type of activity. Vague goals allow the tricksy brain too much leeway: "Hey, I lost weight." Only 2 pounds, but that's fantastic! I suppose that means I may have an extra double-caramel fudge-nut brownie vanilla sundae surprise tonight!" Unreasonable goals merely set us up for failure, and the tricksy brain will take advantage of that as well. "Awww, I've gained two pounds." I'm not going to shed 400 pounds this week. I'll order an additional double-caramel fudge-nut brownie vanilla sundae surprise tonight…


The Power of D.U.M.B. Goals

S.M.A.R.T. goals have nothing wrong with them, and practically everything is correct. Set some acceptable goals for yourself and go after them with everything you've got. Absolutely. 


I believe that D.U.M.B. goals have a place in our lives as well. Dangerously unattainable, monstrously ambitious aspirations. Goals that not only set us up for failure, but almost ensure it. We often set lofty goals that our friends and foes dismiss as unrealistic.

I'm not talking about make-believe goals here, which we have no intention of achieving. Like "marry Angelina Jolie" (which will happen!) or "take over IBM and turn it into a shoe store chain." I'm talking about ambitions that exceed our wildest expectations, aspirations that are perhaps a little too great for us but not absolutely impossible. The kind of ambitions you have a slim chance of achieving, the kind where you can point to someone who isn't much different from you and say, "Why her and not me?"

More significantly, I'm talking about genuine objectives, goals you'll put yourself into with the full intention of achieving them even if the chances are stacked against you. Goals like

If you follow the logic of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting, D.U.M.B. goals are a terrible idea. They are not A - Attainable. They're dangerously unattainable, damn-near unattainable, and deliciously unattainable. You'd have to be an idiot to make D.U.M.B. goals; you're just setting yourself up for failure, which is meant to be a bad thing.

But I'm wondering. Has anyone ever succeeded without faltering along the way? Haven't the greatest successes also been the greatest failures, or at least the most risky? Here's one that comes to mind: in the early 1980s, a teenage Bill Gates stole an operating system and stormed into IBM's offices, demanding that they buy it from him. Seriously, some punk kid tried to sell an operating system to the world's top computer makers! That is D.U.M.B!

Here's the thing: failure is beneficial for you. Okay, not every failure is bad; failing to stop at a 4-way junction when there is a huge truck with its brakes out bearing down on the cross street is probably not good for you. But, in most cases, failure teaches us the lessons we need to succeed. 

I will not deny that failing to achieve our goals has a high emotional cost. But how does the psychic cost of failure compare to the psychic cost of not setting objectives beyond our capacities due to fear and lack of confidence in ourselves? That is, what is the point of not attempting because we are afraid of failing before even taking the first step?

  • Indeed, what are we preparing ourselves for by playing S.M.A.R.T.? A life of coloring between the lines, keeping all our ducks in a row so that someone else can enjoy picking them off in the shooting gallery? 

    I'm not saying you should abandon S.M.A.R.T. aims. To be honest, S.M.A.R.T. is the best way to get things done. But be sure to play D.U.M.B. once in a while. place your tidy, attainable goals, and then place a couple more beside them, three, four, twenty, or 2,000 steps beyond your reach. Go for the gold, shoot for the heavens, and aim for the cliché! 

    This year, the odds favor D.U.M.B. 
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