Process Goals vs Outcome Goals

Most 'New Year Resolutions', fitness goals, life goals etc have one thing in common...

They're usually based on a desired outcome... simply a statement of what you want to achieve...

Meaning that they are "Outcome Goals".

Examples of Outcome Goals;

- lose 5kg of weight

- eat a healthier diet

- stop smoking

- complete a marathon

- learn a new language

- get rich

While you obviously want to achieve your goals... defining them by the final outcome does not increase your chance of successfully achieving that goal.

This is simply stating what you would like to happen, rather than addressing what you actually need to do. Unfortunately, wishful thinking doesn’t produce results. And that’s exactly what an outcome goal is… wishful thinking.

To make something happen, requires the execution of a plan. Usually a long-term one.

Not only is the plan likely to be long-term, but will also require a significant amount of effort and perhaps even involve tasks that you don’t particularly want to do. Especially if the goal is a challenging one...

Again, simply defining your ideal outcome does not address this.

This is where you will benefit from setting ‘Process Goals’.

A process goal, as the name suggests, focuses on the process that will lead you to achieving your target.

Using weight loss as an example… imagine you have set an outcome target of reducing your total bodyweight by 5kg…

A good process goal, would be to track your calorie intake, and maintain a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories. Over time, the calorie deficit will gradually cause your bodyweight to reduce...

Consistently achieve the process goal on a daily basis, and the final outcome looks after itself.

You can apply this to any goal… identify what you want (the outcome). And then identify the steps and habits that are required to get you there. These are the process goals… and this is what you should be focussing on.

Process goals, are a strategy for actually getting things done. These are the things that you do have control over… getting up early to get to the gym before work, prepping food in advance, achieving your macronutrient targets every day, staying hydrated etc.

In most cases, you cannot make the outcome goal happen… factors outside of your control may influence the success of your goal. For example, if you plan to win a 10km race… this may seem like a valid goal. But ultimately you do not have control over your finishing position. If another competitor is 2 minutes faster than your personal best time, there isn’t really very much you can do about it on the day.

However, you can set your process goals, in the 6, 8, 10 weeks before the race to ensure that you are confident of finishing the distance in a target time... a time that 'should' be fast enough to win.

Similarly, if you set an overall weight loss target, there are a number of things that could affect the number on the scale at the precise moment that you decide to do your final weigh-in – how dehydrated you became during the night, your hormone levels, illness etc. So it’s impossible to dictate your precise weight at any given moment. But you can commit to a consistent calorie deficit to ensure that you are losing weight in the long term, despite any likely daily fluctuations.

And process goals don’t just provide a path to your ultimate outcome goal…They actually increase the chance of you achieving that target outcome...

Most people set ambitious and challenging goals (and rightly so… otherwise what’s the point?)…

But when the initial enthusiasm of a new training programme & diet wears off, that ultimate target can feel a long way away.

Example: if you’re only 2 weeks into a 12 week programme, and you're frustrated by your perceived lack of progress, it is easy to feel disheartened, demotivated and prematurely label the plan as a failure. Game over!

If, on the other hand, you acknowledged form the start, that the 12 week programme is actually made up of 84 individual days, which each require a small process goal to be achieved, it is far more likely that;

a) you will feel more motivated (you’re achieving a small win - DAILY.)

b) you will appreciate each day as a small, but significant step towards what you really want. There will be days when you look in the mirror, step on the scale etc and are not happy with what you can see. But again, following a consistent set of process goals serves as a reminder that you are progressing towards your outcome target. Even if there are brief moments when you don't feel positive about your progress.

Consistent commitment to a process, is also vital for building & maintaining habits. Focusing on results only, can often lead to random and useless short term tactics ('weight-loss teas', extreme calorie cutting, extreme macronutrient deprivation, overtraining)…

Process goals force you to be repetitive (consistent). Not only will you make steady progress towards your goal, but when you are ‘finished’, you will be able to look back at a strategy that was not just effective, but also sustainable. Simply put… process goals lead to lifestyle change. This is essential if you want to achieve AND MAINTAIN a change in your health/fitness/body image.