Outcome goals versus direction and process goals

Setting outcome based goals isn’t smart. “I will lose 10 pounds” or “I will achieve the highest performance ratings” are the sorts of goals that present more downside than upside in the long term. There’s a lot of great resources that talk about replacing goals with systems. While I think most of that thinking is good, it misses an important point. It isn’t enough, in my experience, to replace outcome goals with process goals. I find that it helps combining a process goal with a directional goal.

As an example, let’s take a weight loss related outcome goal – “I want to lose 10 pounds within 10 months.” The systems/process goal answer to this would be to replace this with some variant of – “I am going to eat healthy and exercise 3 times every week.”

This is a pretty drastic shift and is hard for most people. That’s because we’re replacing the idea of achievement in 10 months to no achievement. Ever. While it makes sense that we must trust in the process, it helps to have markers along the way.

And, as far as markers go, directional goals work great. There are 2 criteria for directional goals –
1. They need to be a range and shouldn’t be super specific. We always tend to over estimate how we’ll achieve in a year while greatly underestimating how much we achieve in a decade.
2. Their time period needs to be longer than the typical outcome goal you might set.

So, an example directional goal for our weight loss example would be – “I’d like to move toward a fitter body with toned muscles and 3-6 pounds lost within the next 12 months.

The idea is to ease the pressure while still giving you something to celebrate. The other benefit of laying down markers is that you can use them to check in on your process. If you’ve made absolutely no progress in 12 months, it is a sign that you need to fix your process.

The principle here is straightforward – any advice that asks you to ditch goals forever and replace them with process isn’t entirely right. It is helpful to over index on process as we all tend to swing too strong the other way. However, the best test of a process is if it is generating good results without you having to think about them. And, directional goals tend to be a great way to bridge that gap.

PS: Doing things well and right takes time.