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Don’t Set BAD Goals. Set MAD Goals.


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After going through middle school never quite reaching five feet tall or weighing 100 pounds, carrying a trumpet around after school, and only playing on the B-team for basketball, I was pretty pleased to put those years behind me and never look back. High school was significantly more enjoyable, and by the time I reached college, those developmental years of 6th - 8th grade seemed like ancient history. Yet life has a funny way of coming full-circle when we least suspect it.


While pursuing my Master's degree, I spent more time in middle schools than I had since I attended one myself. That is because while I was pursuing my Master’s Degree in Leadership Education, I spent a lot of time facilitating leadership workshops for middle school students. All jokes about how terrible middle school is aside, nothing gives me more hope for the future than working with students who are passionate about applying their leadership skills towards tackling the world’s problems - and that is exactly what I had the opportunity to do.

At many of these workshops, I taught students how to set effective goals. The system that I taught is called MAD goals, and I believe that it offers a good goal setting framework for adults and 13-year-olds alike. MAD stands for three words that I can never spell correctly:

Measurable — The goal is quantifiable. I will know exactly when I achieve my goal. Achievable — The goal is something that is within my abilities. Desirable — The goal is something that I actually want to happen.


Here is an example of a goal. You decide if it is a MAD goal or not.

I will stop eating ice cream after dinner.

This is a good sentiment, but it is not a MAD goal. Let’s add a couple of things to help it fit the criteria.

6 out of 7 nights per week, I will not eat ice cream after dinner.

By adding “6 out of 7 nights per week” the goal is now measurable. It also leaves room for me to eat ice cream one night per week, which is much more achievable than strictly cutting ice cream out of my life. This is now a MAD goal. Let’s break it down further.

Measurable — If I refrain from eating ice cream after dinner 6 nights in a week, I’ve accomplished my goal. If I only refrain 4 times, I have not accomplished the goal. It should be very easy to keep track of my progress if I set a measurable goal.

Achievable — This goal is definitely something that I can do. Sometimes people set goals like “I will read one book a week this year” but their free time allows for nowhere near that pace. A better goal would be “I will read 20 pages every day.” That’s an achievable goal, just like my new ice cream goal.

Desirable — Cutting back on ice cream consumption is certainly desirable for my health. But if I create this goal in the first place, I probably like ice cream. Completely eliminating ice cream from my life is not desirable at all. So setting a goal to not eat ice cream 6 days per week instead of eliminating it entirely is a desirable goal. It allows me to enjoy something that I like, but in moderation.


Sometimes I would teach students a 4th component of the goal which forced me to change the acronym from the oh-so-simple MAD goals to the less memorable MAD+C goals

Controllable — Is the goal something you have control over?

Here’s an example of a goal that I always heard from students: “I will get straight A’s this semester.” This goal is certainly measurable, achievable, and desirable. But at the end of the day, who decides the grade, the student or the teacher? The teacher. You can work as hard as you can towards that goal and still fall short of getting an A.

It’s better to rephrase the goal to include things you have control over. For example, “I will study for each class 30 minutes per night and 30 extra minutes per night if I have a test that week.” If you do that, you are setting yourself up to get straight A’s and you can control every part of your goal.


Now it’s time to play a round of your new favorite game, “Are you MAD, bro?” I’ll give you 3 goals. You decide if they are MAD+C or not.

  1. I will send a text to three friends each Sunday to check in with them.

  2. 2. I will go on a 30-minute run three times per week.

  3. 3. I will get a raise this year.

Answer key: 1 and 2 are MAD+C, 3 is not.

The next time you set goals for your career or for your free time, try setting MAD+C goals. This approach gives you a way to assess the quality of your goals and ensures that you can measure your progress. Don’t stress about forgetting the three (or four) criteria. Once you hear this slogan once you’ll never forget it: Don’t set BAD goals. Set MAD goals.

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