How I Ditched Traditional Goal Setting Advice…and Started Achieving My Goals and Dreams Again

Traditional goal setting advice is a bunch of BS.

You might as well skip all the online articles and social media blurbs you will soon see on “setting goals for 2014”, “reach your dreams in 2014”, “finally achieve [insert goal here] in 2014”, and so forth.

You may be surprised hearing this from me.

If you’ve been reading these missives for any length of time, you know I am a proponent of setting goals. I firmly believe that a solid, well-though out set of goals can provide the focal point around which you organize your attention, your energy and your activity to achieve your objectives.

But there are a few critical mistakes in most of the goal setting advice out there, and in the way most people go about it.

First of all, many people approach goals from a “resolution” mindset. They make one or several resolutions on New Year’s Day for the coming year. They may even write their resolutions down. They gear up, get enthusiastic, and go at it for a few weeks, or maybe even a few months. Then they….

Sort of drop their resolution. They don’t completely forget it. They know they set it. They still want the end result. But they stop taking specific action toward their goal.

(This is one of the inside “secrets” of the fitness center industry. They make tons of money from people signing up for memberships, or even specific types of fitness classes or programs, in December and January. By mid to late February, however, most of these once enthusiastic and motivated folks have dropped out – either completely, or they are visiting the gym infrequently.  Yet they continue to pay the membership fee.)

The other common mistake is setting only outcome goals – what you want to achieve or your desired end result.

The common flaw in these approaches: a lack of focus on process.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Having a clear idea of what you want to achieve is the starting point. And it’s absolutely critical! Most people set vague goals, or have vague notions of what they would like to have in their lives. But they don’t take the time to think through the specific outcome they want.

If you can get to a reasonable set of specific goals you really want to achieve, you are doing better than 90 percent of the folks out there (the 90 percent who even bother to set goals, that is, which is an amazingly small percentage of the overall population).

However, focusing only on outcome is a recipe for under achievement.

How can I say this?

Because I made this same mistake myself – for years!

Each year, I would happily, enthusiastically and expectantly think through and set goals for myself for the coming year. I’d write and rewrite until I had devolved my initial list down into a core set of goals and objectives for the year. Some were bigger, some were smaller, but they all had meaning for me.

Then, I would review my goals frequently, even rewrite them to help keep them front and center in my mind.

Truthfully, I had some good results with this method. I would never hit all my goals, but I would hit some of them. I would get rid of a few, reframe a few. I would hit a few. I guess I did better than I would have if I had not set any goals.

But I always felt like I was under-achieving, that I could be doing so much more.

The pleasure of hitting certain goals would be outweighed by the frustration of not hitting more goals, or not achieving the one or two that mattered most. The year would get away from me, and I would be sitting there in November or December and wonder what happened – where did the year go?

So one day, I sat down and analyzed my approach. And I realized that I had been missing a key piece.

I was focusing all my attention on “outcome” goals. And I was completely ignoring “process” goals.

What’s the difference? And why are process goals so important?

An outcome goal is the main outcome or objective you want to accomplish. For example, “I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks”, or “I want to have $50,000 in investments over the next five years”.

A key characteristic of an outcome goal is that you can’t directly control the accomplishment of the goal. It’s the end result of a series of other things you have to do.

Process goals, also known as behavior goals, represent the steps you have to take to accomplish your outcome. For example, if your outcome goal is, “I want to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks”, your related process or behavior goals could include “I will exercise 5 days per week for the next 10 weeks”, or “I will reduce my caloric intake by 50 calories per day for the next 10 weeks”.

A key characteristic of a behavior goal is that you can directly control the goal, as it’s an action you can choose to take – or not take – every day.

This brings us to the fundamental problem with setting only outcome goals.

Outcome goals represent outcomes that are beyond one’s daily control. You can’t control all the variables that can influence whether or not you hit a specific outcome goal by a specific point in time. Even with highly personal things like losing weight, getting in better shape, or building an investment portfolio, things outside your control can influence your outcome.

This doesn’t mean you get a pass. It doesn’t mean you should just ditch goal-setting altogether.

It does mean you can control the ACTIONS you take that lead to a leaner body or a bigger bank account. Therefore, you should focus on the behavior goals that will help you reach your outcome goals.

And you can control your MINDSET which helps keep you excited and motivated about your goals – both your outcome and your behavior goals.

Here’s how I incorporated this information into my own approach to goal setting.

First, I continued to think through, write out, and prioritize my outcome goals for the coming year. Then I wrote down one to three behavior goals for each major outcome goal. These were the behaviors or actions I had to take on a frequent – daily, weekly, sometimes monthly – basis to stay on track to achieve that goal.

Then, as I reviewed my goals on a daily or weekly basis, I made sure to devote just as much time, mental energy, and emotion to my behavior goals as to my outcome goals.

This did two things for me that made a huge difference:

First, it automatically made me focus on the daily and weekly things I needed to do to reach my goals.

This made me a lot more effective. Moving from a full year focus to a focus on just today is a very powerful tool for achievement. When you think about everything you need to get done over the course of 6 months or 12 months, you can pysche yourself out – the list seems so daunting, the achievement feels so hard.

If, however, you focus just on today, and you make a list of the few key behaviors and activities you want to complete today that will move you toward your goals, you get a better sense of control.

In other words, this type of focus automatically helps you to break down your big goals into bite-sized chunks. This means each day you do a little something that moves you forward. Therefore, each day you make progress. Even if it’s small progress, it’s still progress – and any progress, any task or activity checked off your “to-do” list, feels GOOD!

Second, this made me reduce the number of outcome goals I set to a smaller, more focused, more achievable set of goals.

When you include behavior goals in your goal setting, you soon realize that a large number of outcome goals, with from one to three behavior goals for each, results in…. a huge number of goals you are trying to achieve!

And the larger the number, the less chance you will be capable of devoting focused energy and action to each one….hence, the greater the likelihood that your efforts will be dispersed and you won’t achieve much of anything.

So be reasonable in the number of outcome goals you set for yourself. Choose one to two goals in each major area of your life: health and fitness, family, spiritual and self-improvement, business or career, financial, community. Make sure each goal really resonates with you, really means something – even if it seems like a small goal.

Even a “small” but meaningful goal, once achieved, can have a profound effect on you!

Plus if very goal is a whopper, you run the risk (again) of psyching yourself out and being cowed by your goals, instead of inspired by them.

I urge you to consider this approach and give it a try as you set your sights on 2014. I think you’ll find it helps you quite a bit, as the results you produce become more consistent and come at a faster rate than ever before.

You Can Do It!


“Transform Body Mind and Spirit with Dynamic Energy Exercise!”

Copyright, Karen Van Ness, 2013

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