Goal-setting is an important part of getting to where you want in life. However, many of us usually set some goals and make a start without really giving it a much thought on how we are setting them, whether or not we succeed, or is there a different way to reach them. As a result, we postpone them, change them frequently, give up on some, or experience stress thinking that we aren’t trying hard enough. But most often, it is not our abilities that hold us back, but instead our goal-setting skills. Not all goals are the same. And understanding the concepts of process goals and outcome goals can help you improve your goal-setting skills.
Generally speaking, your goals fit into one of the two categories. Process goals and outcome goals. The outcome goals are a result you would like to achieve, and process goals are the processes you will need to repeatedly follow to achieve that result.
Outcome led thinking allows us to shape a vision for our future, for who it is that we can become, goals and objectives we want to pursue. How it is that we want to invest our time in order to progress, advance and grow. And process goals focus on successful strategy by creating a plan of action. You can consider them as sub-goals or steps towards your larger goal that you can measure and control.
Our goals can be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which one must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.Stephen A. Brennan
Process goals Vs Outcome goals
- General /specific. Process goals are the specific milestones that we can completely control, and are more effective than outcome goals. The steps you take towards your outcome goals are adjustable to adapt to new developments. Whereas an outcome goal is the result of multiple process goals over long-term. It is more difficult to control to get a measurable result, which is what makes outcome goals more general.
- Measurability. Setting your process goals helps you define the goals necessary, for you to complete the process before achieving your intended outcome goal. A process goal, hence is not the destination, but is the smaller objective which helps you to achieve the outcome goal. This makes process goals a lot easier to control, you can adapt them, and measure the results as opposed to your outcome goals that don’t always come evenly and consistently.
- Purpose/direction. Since process goals are based on how you go about achieving your big goal, they can determine the purpose and the path to get there in relation to your outcome goal. An outcome goal on the other hand, focuses on the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish and is essentially the end goal. With outcome goal, we view our goals by knowing and stating clearly what we want. And a process goal is how you might go about positioning yourself in achieving that bigger goal.
- Timeframes. Process goals often take less time to accomplish as compared to your outcome goal. Since outcome goals are more general, and involve many shorter-term process goals, they may take longer. You may hope to achieve your outcome goal within a set time frame, but other factors can affect your actual completion time, which makes them unpredictable in terms of when you will be able to achieve it.
- Flexibility. A process goal is somewhat flexible. There are number ways in which you can construct your process, so that you can make necessary changes that improve your overall goal process. but, the outcome goal remains same. A process goal can exist without an outcome goal. However, with out an outcome goal, you might soon give up on your process goal as there is no outcome to work towards.
- Motivation. Because your outcome goals are long-term, they may become a reason for procrastination. They lessen your motivation towards it overall. Process goals on the other hand, are activities that you can do on a daily basis, where the results are visible, motivates you more, giving you a sense of accomplishment. They also remind you of the bigger purpose.
- Reward. A process goal is an actionable target with a smart criteria. They are specific, measurable, goals you achieve in small time frames. And you can immediately see the results of your efforts. An outcome goal on the other is a singular end goal, and you experience the feeling of reward only after you accomplish that goal. With your process goals, you can see the results immediately, that serve as a reward.
The Pros and Cons of Outcome goals.
The benefit of having an outcome goal is that it gives you a bigger purpose or an end result to work towards. Setting your outcome goal allows you to create your sub-goals and set steps that lead towards achieving it. It is one of the most important ways to achieve self-development. Without an outcome goal, you may struggle to find the motivation to do anything productive on a daily basis.
Regardless what you want to achieve, whether it is regarding your relationships, health, or career, setting outcome goal allows you to continuously move forward. They act as stepping stones for continuous improvement. Because they are the clear end goals, they help you decide what direction, and determine further action steps you can take.
They are complex and overwhelming. However, the problem with outcome goals is that they can be very complex, overwhelming and take longer to achieve. And the problem comes when you become obsessed with the results you want, and undermine the process that will get you to the results you want. Sometimes, the goal that motivated you to take action can end up putting you in a negative mindset. For instance, when you are too consumed with your outcome goal of losing weight, you subconsciously tell yourself that you won’t be happy until you achieve it.
Less emotional and mental sustenance. Having the ability to commit to larger goals requires lot of emotional and mental energy. Because of which focusing too much on the outcome will lead to unnecessary stress and burnout. When you have a goal that seems far to reach or hard to achieve, you will end up feeling stressed until you achieve it. And if your goal takes time, or if you can’t handle the pressure and stress, you will end up giving it all up. It can also make you feel like a failure or resort to downward comparisons.
Lack of consistency leads to unproductive habits. Since outcome goals are made up of many factors, some of which might often are beyond your control. And so are the outcomes that don’t always reflect your performance and inconsistencies. Reaching your outcome can cause other problems if you haven’t been following a productive process.
As in the above fitness goal, if you only care about losing weight, you might follow any means to getting there without realising the difference between productive habits that are sustainable or those that are unproductive. Like for example, going on a crash diet that can only serve you in short term at the expense of your long-term health.
They can be difficult and unrealistic. Another disadvantage of outcome goals is that we often set one’s that are too difficult or unrealistic. For instance, you might be a complete newbie at writing, but setting a goal that you are going to write a book by the end of the year, can be unrealistic. Outcome goals might be easier to set, but are difficult to achieve because of their reliance on process goals.
When you value outcome over the process that gets you there, you can end up measuring your progress too frequently to get any meaningful feedback. For instance, if you weigh yourself three times a day, that isn’t going to get you any closer to your desired outcome. You will be wasting time and energy measuring and obsessing than on taking positive action.
The Pros and Cons of Process Goals
They are achievable in shorter time frames. Setting a process goal means you have to identify to what you actually have to do to achieve a larger goal. Or you need to figure out how and what you need to put a plan in place in going about achieving it. This might involve several milestones that you achieve in shorter time intervals, that you can track them daily to make sure you are achieving them.
They are easier to achieve. Having clear process goals will make it easier for you to assess where you are at in goal accomplishment and keep you accountable. Once you’ve settled on a desired outcome, you can map out your tasks or action steps in reaching it. Since process goals are small enough to achieve daily, you can do them on a daily basis that contributes towards the bigger picture. They are rarely huge tasks to complete which makes them more obtainable. As a result, they help you avoid procrastinating on your long-term goals.
They aren’t overwhelming. Process goals also reduce overwhelm and anxiety in going after your big fat end goal. You can focus on several process goals at once. For instance, in the outcome goal of losing weight, you can realistically cut back on your calories, workout on a daily basis and eat healthy, all in the same day. No matter how big your outcome goal might be, you can start with small and achievable challenges that you can easily accomplish. They eventually help you to figure out your next action steps in order to progress.
They increase your confidence. As you break your larger goal into actionable/achievable steps, they are reassuring to your larger goal accomplishment. When you continuously visualise, set and attain your objectives, you get more confident in reaching your end goal.
They give you clear direction and consistency helps you improve your performance. Since they are about process, they are easily measurable and you are in control whether or not you reach a goal. Process goals give you something consistent to focus on. Though results vary, the process more or less stays same and you get to know where you are lacking to make the required effort to improve.
They pave way for productive habits. Since they are smaller goals that can be measured, monitored, and evaluated, they provide positive feedback. This in turn makes it easier to hold yourself or others accountable, and provide an opportunity to improve. Process goals are repeated behaviours, so they become productive habits in due process.
However, the problem with process goal is that you can’t put them in place without an outcome goal. If you don’t have a clear idea of what the bigger picture looks like then you can’t set process goals in order to work towards it. You will have smaller wins, the rewards have to wait and they won’t give you the same sense of gratification as an outcome goal would.
They keep you in your comfort zone that limit your full potential. Even with an outcome in mind, it’s often easy to get lost in mundane life activities and lose motivation to work on your process goals. And if you happen to set lofty process goals, or procrastinate on them, it impacts your final outcome as well. Although your process goals will yield outcomes, they might not be life-changing. They will just be sufficient to push you forward with right motivation.
Which goals are better?
The fact is that in a goal-setting process, both are needed. One without the other rarely works. From this perspective, it is important to see them as two sides of the same coin. You need clear outcome goals to clarify your end result. The more clear it is, the more likely you are to succeed. But at the same time, you also need to know the action steps required to get you there. So, you need to determine your process goals in order to make your end goal achievable.
If you focus only in your outcome, without considering your process, it’s likely that you will extend time and you’ll still be not able to achieve your goals. If you focus only on the process without being clear on your end goal, it’s likely that you will waste your resources without any clear purpose.
To overcome this, it is important to know both your outcome and the appropriate processes or action steps to get there. Then you can spend most of your time following the process and measure results after enough time has passed. This way, you will be better equipped to check what isn’t and what is working. then include quick check-ins along the way to to ensure you are heading in the right direction. Look for ways to track your progress.
Self-reflection questions for goal-setting
What are my outcome goals and What are my process goals?
Are my outcome goals good for me in all areas of my life?
What do I concentrate mostly on, outcome or process goals?
Can my outcome goal be broken down into manageable chunks?
Are my process goals small enough to track daily?
Is my outcome goal achievable and is it realistic?
Are my process goals challenging or compelling enough?
The issue with process goals is that, some of them are repetitive and simple which makes them boring. It even might take months, or even years of working on your process goals before you see the desired results. If you fail to track your daily action steps, this also leads to failed improvement. Including some elements of challenge, adding daily increments to your process goals can keep you motivated. When you commit to your action steps on a daily basis, it is almost impossible to fail.
Setting an appropriate outcome and process goals, and rewarding or celebrating your small achievements from time to time can keep you going in right direction. By focusing on the process, you base your behaviours on continuous improvement. Focusing on things you can control, adding daily increments, and optimal usage of your resources like time and energy sets you up for a successful goal accomplishment.