Be a SMART ASS and Design Your Best Life!

From time to time we may feature some of the ideas we have written about in our newest book, The Nu Nomad.  SMART ASS goals is one of those ideas.

The Danger of Forgetting Our Dreams

How to be a Smart AssMost of us have dreams of ourselves in some future, living a life that is light years better than the one we currently have.  Your dream may be of living in far away islands, winning a Nobel Peace Prize, or completing a marathon while your amazingly beautiful love interest cheers you on at the finish line.  Whatever your dream, you’ve probably come to accept that getting from here to there is not as simple as you’d like.  I mean this damned current ordinary life gets in the way.  My own dream consists of a tuscan style home surrounded by grapevines and beautiful setting suns – but every time I move towards it inevitably one of my kids gets sick, the car needs repair or the air conditioning breaks (living in Texas that’s serious stuff).

Too often our dreams take back seat to the fires we’re putting out around us.  Before we know it, years can go by and our dream is still that – a dream, only older and seemingly more elusive over time.  One day you might find yourself at the kitchen table with your kids asking, “What did you used to think you were going to be?” and you might not even remember what the dream was.  If this dream was something that really reflected your life passions that would be tragic.

So how can we prevent the loss of our next dream into this mental haze where nothing gets realized?  Well, obviously, the dream must transform into an actual plan and actions over time to bring it into reality.  In my recent post, 6 Stages to Successfully Design Your Lifestyle , I discussed Prochaska’s stages of change and the importance of contemplation and planning.  Let’s get down to a more concrete level now. What does good planning and action look like?  Well, in my world it’s about being a SMART ASS.


Smart Ass adviceBeing a SMART ASS is about knowing how to properly design goals so that they can be executed with the greatest chance of success.  SMART goals have been around for a long time.  For all of you who have ever sat through a corporate meeting while some consultant explained this to you in the buzz of fluorescent lighting as the smell of cheap coffee and perhaps a stale croissant sandwich (if you were being treated well) rose to your nostrils, I apologize for going over it again.  But bear with me – it’s solid stuff.

So let’s revisit SMART goals in light of lifestyle design.  When you are setting goals it’s easier than you think to create a goal that will lead you to failure before you even begin moving towards it.  Remembering SMART goals will help you create goals that are actually executable.

S – Specific

State your goal specifically.  As a coach one of my pet peeves are people who will say their goal is “just to be happy”.  Just wanting to “be happy” is a sure-fire way to failure.  What does “being happy” mean to you?  Get specific!! For one person it may mean getting out of debt, for another it may mean finding a spouse.  Dig down and get specific about what your goal is.

M -Measurable

Your goal must be measurable.  This is related to being specific.  I mean, it’s pretty hard to measure happiness (although a lot of psychologists have created tests for this – we’re not going there).  Create a goal that you can measure so that you’ll know when you have arrived.  You can measure if you are out of debt.  You’ll know if you’ve gotten married.  Want to travel for a year?  You’ll be able to measure if you did that.

A – Action Oriented

This is a somewhat subtle but important point to understand.  Your goal must be stated in action oriented language.  For instance, a person may want to lose weight.  In order to lose weight they will likely need to diet and exercise.  The catch is that they may diet and exercise and still not lose weight in which case they will feel they have failed.  So, if the goal is stated, “I want to lose 50 pounds” that person may end up feeling like a failure for causes beyond their control.  It’s possible that 50 pounds is no longer reasonable for their age even with proper diet and exercise.  What is more important is that this person sustain the healthy action over time.  If they get discouraged that their weight loss is not occurring and they go back to being sedentary and eating twinkies, in the long run the purpose is defeated.  On the other hand, if the person stated their goal as, “I want to maintain a low carb diet and exercise 4 times per week”, then success or failure is within their control.  Likely the result of these actions will be weight loss but the mental shift is in making the goal be about the positive action- not the outcome.

R – Realistic

Make a realistic goal.  A goal like, “I will work 40 hours per week towards my new business” may not be realistic if you already have a 40 hour per week job and maybe even a family.  Don’t delude yourself into failure.  Take a careful look at your current situation and know what is realistic in terms of what kind of actions and time commitments you can promise to.

T – Time Oriented

Your goal needs to have a time component.  By when do you plan to pay off your debt?  For how long will you maintain diet and exercise before your re-evaluate?  Your time component also needs to be tested for being “realistic”.  It may be realistic to set a year goal for paying off your debt.  It may not be realistic to think you can do it in 3 months.  Without a time limit attached to your goal it is too easy to slip into that future where the goal has faded into the mist.  Even if you set a goal for a life habit you intend to continue forever (such as proper eating) set yourself a time at which you will stop your actions and evaluate how it’s going.  It will also give you an opportunity to tweak your actions or perhaps even set a greater goal if things are going well.

OK, so there are SMART goals.  They may be new to you or you may have seem them many times.  While they are fundamental in understanding proper goal setting, I always felt they left out some very important aspects of ensuring successful movement to your goal.  And so I created SMART ASS goals.  Here are my additions:

A – Accountability

– Make yourself accountable to someone.  It’s too easy to slide our goals under the rug and pretend we never made them if we keep them private.  Tell another person your goals and ask them to hold you accountable.  For some people this can be a family member or close friend.  Other people use coaches just for this function.  Make sure to set a regular time (weekly works well) when you will check in with that person and report in on your progress towards your goal.

S – Structure

– Create structures to help yourself meet your goals.  A structure is a concrete thing in your environment that exists to remind you about your goal or to make it easier for you to take the actions towards it.  Want to take off for a year to Budapest?  A simple structure could be to tape pictures of Budapest to your bathroom mirror as a reminder of your goal.  Want to get out of debt so you can take the trip to Budapest?  Another structure could be to remove all credit cards from your wallet and put them into a safe deposit box so that you cannot be tempted to use them next time you’re out shopping.

S – Small Steps

Finally, break your goals into small steps.  “The elephant is eaten one bite at a time”.  Stating a huge goal can feel overwhelming and keep you from taking action.  However, breaking it into small steps can help you realize that it is actually doable.  It will also give you a lot more chances to notice and celebrate your successes along the way.  (I’m all for celebrations!)

It may take some up-front time to sit down and get your goals to fit SMART ASS criteria.  However, remember that in Prochaska’s model those people who spent more time in contemplation and planning were the people who maintained their goals overtime.  Put a bit of extra time in now and save yourself a lot in the future!

You can read about SMART ASS goals and how to apply them to becoming location independent in our newest book, The Nu Nomad.


  1. Love this concept – I think the addition of accountability and structure are particularly important.

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    • Hi Sharon, Thanks for reading. And yes, I think accountability and structure are really key to making sure you are successful.

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  2. Accountability is the most important step for me…the social pressures (though they are mostly imagined) that come with telling everyone that I'm going to do something never fail to keep me on task (case in point, I just spent two 18 hour days in a row finishing up an ebook because I told everyone I would have it out today. That's a little nuts).

    All great points to keep in mind!

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  3. Carmen, I love it. People never take the chance to actually design their life. Very few people have even thought of the fact that they could design their life.

    Thanks for setting a great example and giving us a blueprint.

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    • Thanks Matt. You probably know, from your own work at under30CEO that it's the same for business. A lot of people don't take the time to sit down and strategically plan their businesses. Then they wonder why things don't go the way they thought they would.

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  4. This post reminded me of a joke/quote I once read:

    Q. Why are adults always asking children what they want to be when they grow up?

    A. They're looking for ideas.

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    • I think I fall into this category. I am constantly amazed by the things my kids do, the opportunities they have that I never did, and the presence of mind they have. I do look to them for inspiration sometimes.

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  5. Haha – I like it =). I definitely agree about small steps – often people try to do everything at once, and that sometimes leads to failure and frustration. And by people, I also mean me 😉

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    • Hey, me too Sid. Especially if you have a choleric personality ( which a lot of business owners do) we can want to do everything at once. It’s usually not very effective and leads to frustration! It’s important to break it down.

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    • Hey, me too Sid. Especially if you have a choleric personality ( which a lot of business owners do) we want to do everything at once. It's usually not very effective and leads to frustration. It's important to break things down.

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  6. All of this is good stuff, but man… I was really hoping one of the A's was 'attitude" or something else that connected the message to the SMART ASS vibe that got me to click through to the article. Attitude in sea of boring is a great. Sure, my hope was based on a yearning for validation of my many years of being a smart ass in the non acronymical sense. But i honestly think something like that would ground the acronym… and make it funny(er).

    I don't want to sound negative, I'm just a sucker for a punch-line.

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    • Sorry to disappoint, Andrew. Yeah, I could see that you might have been expecting something a bit different.

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    • Sorry to disappoint, Andrew. Yeah, I could see that you might have been expecting something a bit different.

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  7. Love this post. It's amazing what taking small steps and accountability can do. Sometimes just doing SOMETHING is the trick to get going.

    Great post and blog. 🙂



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    • You're so right, Dayne. Often it's that first step that's the hardest – then once it's taken it's easier to keep moving. Thanks for reading!

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  8. Great post, but why'd you have to take me back to that damn corporate meeting, haha.

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    • You mean it wasn't a pleasant memory?! Aren't you glad it is just a memory?

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  9. Great post!

    This is an almost scientific approach to life. We all have vague dreams and goals, but this is more action oriented and objective.

    I am a huge believer in structure for shaping actions. Peter Senge wrote the bible on structures and systems, called the Fifth Discipline. Structure influences everything we do.

    For example, if you buy a big house you will spend extra money to furnish and decorate it. If you are a backpacker, you will not buy many things because you can't take them with you. We all need to structure our lives to propel us forward.

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    • Hey John, Senge is one of my favorites. You're right that we need to take a look at the structures around us and decide if they are helping or impeding the type of lives we want to have.

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  10. Small steps are indeed vital to successful achieving a goal. It happens far too often that a sudden burst of motivation (from reading a particular book or hearing about someone else's success) leads to the setting of unrealistic short-term goals. When the desired results aren't attained, the entire goal is just tossed away or forgotten about. I bet there's a lot of amazing dreams out there just waiting for a good, reasonable plan to turn them into reality!

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    • You're so right. That's one reason I don't believe in attending trainings or conferences that don't have some follow up. You too often get motivated during the session only to go home and completely forget what you were excited about. It's the ongoing reinforcement that is so key to making goals be realized.

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  11. I love the 'ASS' addition, I am currently working on a personal / life management web app that utilizes these concepts. Thanks for the great post.

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    • The ASS is my own addition that I came up with in the years that I used to teach mental health professionals how to coach. It always went over well. Takes kind of a dull concept and makes it more fun. I find that when people are being entertained they actually remember things better. This article has also gotten more press on social networks than any I've written so far so I think I'll just start writing ASS into all my titles!

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