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The Trap of Setting a Goal - Process Goals Versus Outcome Goals

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

The Trap of Setting a Goal - Process Goals Versus Outcome Goals

Scott Miker

When setting goals and planning for change, whether in business or in our personal lives, we have to make sure we avoid a common trap.  Most people set goals that help them understand the final objectives.  They may use a goal setting system, such as SMART Goals, or they may simply state that they wish to achieve X.  

The biggest reason that people miss their goals is because they are not able to attach the desired outcome to the necessary process.  In other words, they understand what they want to achieve but they don’t implement the how they are going to achieve.  The how part is much more crucial than any other element.

In his book, Smart Change, Dr. Art Markman refers to this as outcome goals and process goals.  He states that “the most typical goal people pursue is an outcome goal.  It refers to a specific state that you hope to reach in the future (like being a thin mother of the bride).  The second type of goal is a process goal that focuses on a set of actions you can perform.  As a side effect of those actions, you may achieve some desirable outcomes, but your focus is on the actions, not the outcome.”

When you realize you need to make a change, do you focus solely on outcome goals?  Or do you look for ways to change the process in order to see results?

One of the key benefits of process goals over outcome goals is that process goals tend to last much longer.  Dr. Markman states that “processes can go on for long after a particular outcome is reached, making them great goals for long-term life changes.

If you find yourself struggling with the same goals, first evaluate the process for reaching those goals.  Is the process one that builds and adjusts the systems and habits in your life, or is it more focused on a quick solution to a current problem?

Regardless of the change that you would like to see, understand the importance of the process that you will use to achieve your goal.  The process is the how part of the goal and is the main driver for success or failure.  It also is what determines whether you solve a problem temporarily or permanently.  Learn to focus on process goals in order to see long-lasting positive change!