Stretch Goals VS Smart Goals: Which is Better for Your Success?

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No matter what area of your life you’re working on, you need to have some type of framework and target when you’re setting goals. But considering there are several different goal categories and methods of working toward achieving what you want, you may wonder what the benefits are of stretch goals vs SMART goals, as both are commonly used in both a personal and professional setting.

While some people focus on attainable goals, others prefer setting potentially impossible goals to see how far they can go. Will one goal-setting method make you more successful than the next?

Think about the goals that you’re working on right now–or goals you have had in the past–and the goal-setting method you’ve used to help you make progress. Have you been successful?  If you understand the difference between stretch goals vs SMART goals, you can easily determine which one is appropriate in your various goal-setting situations.

In this article, we will look at the pros and cons of each type of goal and examine some factors to keep in mind when you’re choosing which to use. Let’s get started.

(Side note: One of the best ways to get what you want from life is to create and set SMART goals. To get started, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.)

A Definition of Stretch Goals vs SMART Goals

A stretch goal is one that requires high risk and high effort. They’re intentionally set just out of reach in hopes of earning exponential rewards, opening new doors, and gaining new experiences. Stretch goals aren’t set with the intention to be achieved–rather, they’re created in order to inspire growth and push you beyond what you believe your limits are. Stretch goals can’t be achieved by simply working “harder” than you are right now. Rather, they’re designed to motivate you to leave your comfort zone and explore new ways to be successful. 

When you’re hoping to achieve something that seems impossible, you have to develop creative techniques that you haven’t used before. However, when you’re setting your stretch goals, you should think big and focus on your outcome without worrying too much just yet about how you’re going to get there.

SMART goals, on the other hand, are used to help guide your goal planning in a way that ensures you will know exactly what you’re going to do to achieve the specific goal at hand and exactly when that goal has been accomplished. SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Therefore, a SMART goal incorporates these criteria to help you set a goal that is focused and realistic to achieve.

Writing SMART goals is easy, you just have to write down the outcome that you desire and determine your deadline for achieving it. The harder part comes with actually taking the appropriate action that you initially promised to take when you wrote your goal. SMART goals often require you to do a little bit of work every day to make progress and be successful.

Stretch Goals Pros and Cons

Pros of Stretch Goals

  • Stretch goals encourage you to think beyond your current limits and set your sights higher than the status quo. Rather than aiming for a target that is seemingly attainable, a stretch goal will help you raise the expectations you’ve set for yourself and find ways to achieve more ambitious endeavors, which will increase your chances of being successful in general. Even if you miss your target, you'll probably achieve more with a stretch goal than you would without one.
  • Stretch goals give you somewhere to go once your original goal has been achieved. You can view the stretch goal as a target to work towards if or when your original target is met. As you get closer to reaching your original goal, you may lose momentum because of the amount of progress you’ve made. But your stretch goal offers an incentive to keep your motivation high and finish strong.
  • You don’t need to worry if you don’t achieve your stretch goal. While these goals want you to focus on higher ambitions, they also don’t want to discourage you if you don’t hit your target.
  • Regardless of your outcome, having a stretch goal will give new energy to your sense of inspiration.  Whether you’re working by yourself or on a team, stretch goals can turn an uninspired work environment around by setting challenges to create better results. They inspire commitment, effort, and creativity, leading to the discovery of hidden talent and new methods of doing things.

Cons of Stretch Goals

  • With stretch goals, your targeted level of performance can become unclear. Instead of having just one specific objective, you’re typically aiming for a generally unsurpassed level of achievement. Without a clear timeline, it can be tough to determine if you should be taking a slow and steady approach to improving your baseline or if you should do anything that’s necessary as fast as possible to get there.
  • Stretch goals, by definition, appear to be unachievable. People are more likely to buy into goals and possibilities that are…possible. Goals can help encourage improved performance when people believe they can push themselves that hard. However, setting targets at a level that is nearly impossible to achieve may not result in harder work, and instead may cause people to mentally check out and actually reduce the efforts they’re putting forth.
  • Stretch goals may cause you to feel like you have failed. This can feel defeating, especially if the stretch goal will inevitably lead to failure at the time of inception. If you set yourself up to be disappointed, it can make your motivation suffer.
  • Stretch goals can motivate you, but they won’t provide you with the skills that are required to succeed. Just because you set higher goals for yourself doesn't mean you will know how to tackle the work. Stretch goals don’t assist you in the execution of your efforts.
  • Stretch goals may make you lose focus of your personal mission. If you become fixated on the outcome of your stretch goal, you might lose sight of what is driving you to meet the goal in the first place.
  • Having stretch goals in group settings may lead to unethical behavior, which can then lead to negative consequences for the group. Studies have shown a connection between working toward ambitious goals and cheating—when people feel pressure from their superiors, they may turn to unethical measures to hit their target, no matter what it takes.

SMART Goals Pros and Cons

Pros of SMART Goals

  • SMART goals make your end vision clear. Whether you’re working on a short term, intermediate, or long term SMART goal, you have a specific vision, which also allows you to have a proper aim. This weeds out any goals that are ambiguous or vague and requires you to clearly define what you want and how you’re going to get it.
  • SMART goals keep you focused. After writing a SMART goal, you know exactly what you’re shooting for. This clear focus can help you prioritize your time and prevent you from becoming distracted by non-essential daily tasks that come up. Furthermore, if you get off track when working on a SMART goal, you will quickly notice it because every SMART goal is measurable along the way. In the case that this happens, you can refocus and correct your course.
  • It is easy to track your progress when you’re working on a SMART goal. This, in turn, allows you to evaluate your work piece by piece. This also helps you predict your long-term outcomes as you see your rate of progress. 
  • You can break your SMART goals into pieces so you can conquer them in a successive manner. Instead of exhausting yourself by taking on a big project all at once, you just need to divide your ultimate goal into smaller, more manageable goals. This will help to reduce the distance between where you’re starting and your finish line.

Cons of SMART Goals

  • They don’t guarantee success. Sure, SMART goals set you up to achieve your goal with a plan and a timeline. But that doesn’t mean it is always going to work out. And when someone is achieving SMART goal after SMART goal, an instance of failure can cause some severe distress, which can also lead to a decrease in self-confidence.
  • SMART goals don’t encourage you to take a break. Constantly working under a fast-paced deadline can lead to drastic changes in your lifestyle. This can lead to constant stress and the deterioration of health conditions. Long-term SMART goals require a lot of focus and commitment. So it’s important to remember to take breaks in between reaching your goals and celebrate reaching the smaller milestones along the way.
  • SMART goals can act like stop signs on your way to your full potential. You may work hard to bring your dream to life, but once your goal is reached, the curvature of your growth flattens. Setting goals that are unknowingly too easy may not move you to achieve more than your minimum potential–you may miss an opportunity for growth.
  • When you’re unable to follow your SMART goal plan, you may get discouraged and abandon the goal. SMART goals require time management, and if your goal is the only focus of all of your work, you may lose some balance in life. When you focus all of your energy on a SMART goal, you may lose sight of the sense of fulfillment you get along the way as well.

To Sum Up the Pros and Cons…

Here is an infographic comparing the pros and cons of stretch goals and SMART goals to help sum all of this up. You may find that some of the pros outweigh the cons for each of these types of goals…or vice versa.

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How to Decide Between Stretch Goals and SMART Goals

Both types of goals are probably useful for you in their own unique way, but each type fosters its own kind of self-improvement. So, which is right for you? The answer to this probably depends on the specific scenario that you’re facing.

When deciding between creating a stretch goal and making a SMART goal, there are some factors to consider, such as: the type of goal, your timeline or deadline, your resources, how specific your goal is, if you already know what you have to do to be successful, and how comfortable you are with the potential of falling short.

Make a stretch goal if:

Make a SMART goal if:

  • You know you can achieve your goal in a reasonably short amount of time.
  • You need to see a significant change happen sooner rather than later.
  • You’re focused on a fixed target.
  • You know exactly what you need to do to achieve your goal.
  • You have all of the skills you need to reach your goal.
  • Someone else has achieved this goal in the past.

Final Thoughts on Stretch Goals VS Smart Goals: Which is Better for Your Success?

You should know whether a stretch goal or a SMART goal is better for your success to improve your chances of achieving the growth that you desire. While both of these types of goals have their pros and cons when used on their own, they can be tied together to create an interdisciplinary mindset to guide you through taking specific steps today to achieve some greater dream in the long run.

You can use both stretch goals and SMART goals for personal advancement in any area of your life. Check out this article to read about the 7 areas of your life for setting important goals

Finally, if you want to take your goal-setting efforts to the next level, check out this FREE printable worksheet and a step-by-step process that will help you set effective SMART goals.

Connie Mathers is a professional editor and freelance writer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing and a Master’s Degree in Social Work. When she is not writing, Connie is either spending time with her daughter and two dogs, running, or working at her full-time job as a social worker in Richmond, VA.

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Stretch Goals VS Smart Goals: Which is Better for Your Success?