How to Set Better Goals: Outcome vs Process Goals
I love to dream. Like anyone else, I'm sure, I catch myself thinking about some future outcome that I want. Maybe it's a business, a ranch, a way of life, or some achievement that I want to one day say I've done. Dreaming is fine. There's nothing really wrong with it, as it provides that North Star by which we guide our life and our present actions. These dreams we all have to build a great business, a family, and a legacy, however, should not be the goals we set. In this article, I'll explain why... From young ages we’re taught to set outcome-based goals. If you want to achieve something, set it as a goal and deconstruct how you will achieve it - or so the practice goes. The problem with outcome-focused goals is that we don't completely control outcomes. Take a boxing match, for example. Everyone goes into a boxing match wanting to win, but someone will inevitably lose. The victor and the loser are not necessarily chosen based on preparation or even talent. Sometimes you get hit with a lucky punch or get stuck with a bad judges decision. The outcome, itself, isn't 100% under your control, but your preparation, your degree of focus and relaxation entering the ring, your adherence to your trainer's instructions and to the game plan you've set forth, are. A goal should be something you have control over so it's achievement rests solely on your shoulders, and not on luck or timing or something else that you don't control. To set outcome goals is to place the importance on something controlled by the Fates, and to do this gives control of meaning and purpose in your life over to something that is not firmly within your grasp. There is, however, a better way to set goals. This method both increases your ability to achieve the outcome goal - which will always serve as a North Star, a guiding light - and your joy and happiness in the moment, in all moments.
The ProcessNo matter how well you work, train, study, you don’t have complete control over an outcome… ...You do have complete control over performance, effort, and habits. In your quest to build a better, stronger, fitter physique, the physique can be your north star, but not your goal. Your goal is to workout 5 days a week, to walk or run 30 minutes every day, to stick to your meal plan for two months. With your work, the goal isn’t to reach $10 million in revenue in year 3, but to stick to your plan… To have a 3 hour, uninterrupted work session starting at 7 am every single day… To launch a new product every 3 months… To not get too down in bad times nor too high in good times… This seems simple, this setting process goals vs outcome goals, but it really is profound. Imagine if you didn’t care about winning your fight coming up (let’s say you’re a boxer)? Let’s say you only cared about doing your absolute best. You follow your training plan, give everything you have in those workouts, you don’t mess up, and come fight time, you simply want to focus, to get dialled in, and perform your best. You’re not worried about failure, because you’re not focused on the outcome. You’re not scared of underperforming, because you’re going to do your best. I’ve been in this exact situation, in a fight, where for the first time in my life I didn’t care about the outcome. I was fighting a guy from LA, a southpaw, who had more fights than I had. They lied about his fight count and the fact that he was left-handed, so I figured the guy was going to be awesome, and in warm-ups he looked like he was. In my head I just said, F-it, do your best, have fun, enjoy the fight. I mopped the floor with him. I was loose, focused, explosive, and effective. The butterflies that an outcome-focused approach weighs you down with weren’t there… Here’s the thing… The outcome goal, the one we all set - to get this or win that - is dependent on the process goal, or the goal we have control over (our actions, habits, persistence, and so on). BUT, the outcome goal can take away from the very thing that it depends on, while the process goal can only improve the outcome. Let’s say you set a massive goal and something goes horribly wrong that was out of your control - maybe the market crashes and you’re forced to pivot. Being stuck to that original goal is useless. Getting down, depressed, and discouraged because you’re not going to reach that goal right now is also useless. If you’re focused on doing your best, defined by habits, process, tasks, and effort, (concrete things, not just 'trying') the chaos is merely something you deal with… There’s nothing to get down about, or upset about, this is life, and all you can do is do your best. Now, this is not some hippie, ‘everyone is perfect, just do your best’ way of setting goals. Almost no one actually does their best. Very few persist. And pretty much nobody actually does what they set out to do. If your goal is fixated on the process, then you have to do what you said you were going to do. By doing that simple thing that most take for granted, you become elite. Being successful is better than having things that would make you appear successful. Being proud of who you are because you really are something to be proud o, is a power that's hard to comprehend because the vast majority of us live lives falling short of the outcome goals and dreams we have for ourselves. Hold the outcome as your North Star, for sure. Have an idea of where you're heading and why, and then let it go. Write it down and forget about it until one day it's attained because you focused on the process. You become successful, you made it ensue rather than trying to have it as something you pursue. We’ll end with this quote from Viktor Frankl,
“For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”
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