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What type of goal or resolution did you set?

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.  

What type of goal or resolution did you set?

Scott Miker

I talk to a lot of people about goals and New Years resolutions.  Whether in business, sports, finance, or health I tend to hear people talk about what they hope to achieve.

This makes a lot of sense.  We are taught throughout our lives that we have to know the target we want to hit.  But this is very misleading.

The reason that this is misleading is that this puts too much emphasis on the envisioned outcome.  But the journey to get there is much more important.  Focusing too much on the outcome distracts us from the actual steps that need to be taken.

There are two different types of goals.  The first is an outcome goal.  This is the typical goal that people set.  It sets a specific outcome that we hope to achieve.

The second type of goal is a process goal.  This takes into account the direction we want to go, but it doesn’t focus on the specific outcome we want to achieve.   This is the best type of goal for improvement.  Usually we know what direction is an improvement and the specific outcome is less important than an improvement from where we are.

This is where we should direct our focus.  The process goal gets to the “how” part of the goal.  It gets to the action steps and behavior changes and uses that to drive improvement. 

But it can be difficult to transition from setting outcome goals to setting process goals.  What I usually recommend is to start by keeping the outcome goals and then adding process goals. 

So if you want to achieve X as your outcome goal, what behaviors need to be in place and what action steps need to be taken in order to reach that goal?  This will start to shift your perspective to one of doing the things necessary to improve, rather than thinking or even wishing for the things you want. 

And this might show that the outcome goal is too high because the necessary actions and behaviors are too daunting.  We can then shift our outcome goals to match the process goals instead of vice versa.  This will make it much more likely to achieve rather than set you up for failure.

It also shifts to more of an intrinsic view.  It looks at what you need to do in order to hit a target.  Yes there are always circumstances that impact success or failure, but process goals focus solely on the process to achieve.  This means that it focuses on changes you have to make and processes you have to maintain. 

There is also an accountability element.  Process goals easily show us if we are doing the things we need to in order to succeed.  We can then make adjustments to our processes and routines in order to speed up improvement.  And if we aren’t doing the things necessary to succeed, we can address those areas directly with new process goals. 

I’ve heard a lot of criticism regarding focusing on the process instead of the outcome.  The argument is that we have to go use a “ready, aim, fire” approach but focusing too much on the doing part seems like “ready, fire, aim.” 

In reality by not setting any goals we seem to go “ready, fire, aim.”  What the process goals do is help focus on how we are going to hit the target.  This shows the shortsightedness of this metaphor.  We still have to know which way to go, but to improve we can’t just look for the end; we have to look at the means to the end.

Process goals can be a very helpful way to help us achieve and grow over time. By setting goals around the things we have to do to change, we can improve over time and get closer and closer to our idea of success. 

This year try something different with your New Years Resolutions.  Try to develop resolutions based on process goals instead of outcome goals.  The benefit is that next year at this time, you might be able to continue to build on the positive habits you started this year, instead of starting over again from start.