Honestly, I have never been a big fan or proponent of the classic New Year’s resolution. The New Year brings with it a lot of stress; it brings the baggage of the year before, the things you wanted to do but didn't, our success' and the “failures” we had (more on “failure” in a later post), the good the bad and the ugly of the prior year and the start of something fresh commonly causes a knee jerk reaction at the literal 11th hour to set a goal for the entire upcoming year!
But whether or not these goals are rushed, or the January 1st deadline is arbitrary, all too often these well intentioned goals of self improvement go unfulfilled. The vast majority of people never accomplish their New Year’s resolution and the primary reason behind it is not a lack of motivation or desire to accomplish what we set out to; it is due to improper goal setting.
Now to be clear, I am not talking about setting the bar so low that it’s easy to achieve, nor am I saying that shooting for the stars is a bad thing, hell a HUGE goal can be a powerful motivator. What I am talking about is outcome and process goals and how these two must work in coordination with one another in order to have any success with a New Year’s resolution or any other goal throughout the rest of the year.
If you have ever seen a toddler or a young child at the dinner table you have seen these two types of goals in action. For our example we will use a 3 year old named Johnny, Johnny comes to the dinner table with his outcome goal in mind "I want ice cream." The result Johnny is after is simply getting dessert. Unfortunately, as we all know, Johnny can't have desert until you eat your peas. In this situation the parent sets the process goal, "Johnny, you have to eat your peas in order to have ice cream". Now, if Johnny is unwilling to follow the process (eat his peas) he will certainly never reach his desired outcome (the ice cream), but Johnny’s sister, Laura, the wise 6 year old that she is goes to the table knowing her goal and understands she need to follow accomplish this small task, eating her peas, in order to get her ice cream. As Johnny pouts and complains about not getting ice cream his sister sits quietly eating peas until she finish and also get to eat their ice cream!
Let’s break these down into the individual goal types to better understand why we do in fact need both types of goals. Outcome goals are focused on the result you are hoping to achieve, and these goals are largely out of your control if you don't proactively take steps to achieve the desired outcome. We will use one of the most common resolutions as an example,.The goal: to
lose weight, whether to improve performance in sport or to look better on the beach, the outcome you are after is simply to weigh less then you do now be it 5, 10 or or 30 pounds.
Now the problem with outcome goals is that many people set their goals and only focus on the end result, weighing themselves every day and not seeing the progress they want. They fixate on the end result and don’t follow a progressive set of steps they in order to achieve this goal, this inevitably leads to a lack of progress towards the goal, frustration, and eventually giving up on the goal all together. This is where process goals come in.
Process goals are things you can do, here and now that will positively impact the likelihood of you accomplishing your outcome goal. Using our example above of a person trying to lose weight, they could set an initial process goal to track everything they eat for two weeks. Not only does this allow the person to do something everyday to affect the change they want to see and set them up for the greatest chance of success, but it gives a milestone to celebrate along the way, keeping them motivated through the process. Once they were to successfully record two weeks of food, the next process goal could be to reduce their caloric intake by a small, manageable percentage over the next two weeks, building upon the success of the first two weeks and taking a second step towards achieving the desired outcome of weight loss.
The trouble with process goals is that many times people's New Year's resolutions are only process goals, ex. “I am going to go to the gym 3 days a week." These goals, while admirable, are bound to fail because there is no ice cream at the end of dinner. The little girl from our first example wouldn't return to the dinner table night after night and eat the same bowl of peas with nothing to show for it. Even if by some freak occurrence the Laura likes peas, she will eventually get bored and will refuse to eat them without something to show for it. Just the same, without an outcome goal to drive us to wake up before sunrise to get to the gym before work or head there after a long day before heading home, we will inevitably fall off the wagon of well intentioned New Year’s resolutions.
Now, going into this holiday season, as we inch closer and closer to New Year’s and you begin to contemplate your resolutions, let’s do so with intention. Setting outcome goals is fine, as long as you have a plan to achieve the outcome, a set of things you can do here and now to affect the result you are hoping to achieve. These goal types must work together to give you the best chance of achieving your desired result and staying committed to seeing your New Year’s resolution through to the end.
Finish this sentence “To accomplish ____X____ I will do ____Y____”
If you cant fill in the "Y" let us know, we are here to help you make a plan to achieve your goals.
This blog post is the first part of a winter series about goal setting. Sign up for our email list so you don't miss part 2!