Outcome Goals vs. Process Goals: Which are Better for Fitness?

Would you like to snatch 200 pounds, have six-pack abs, and run a 2-minute 800? I mean, who wouldn’t? Outcome goals like these are fun to daydream about, and they can certainly motivate you toward better health and fitness.

However, if you really want to get stronger and healthier, you should be making process goals.

What is the difference between outcome goals and process goals, and why are process goals superior? Let’s break it down.

How are Outcome Goals and Process Goals Different?

Outcome goals are pretty much what they sound like—they’re goals that focus on the end game.

We all make them, whether or not we mean to, and that’s not the worst thing. You’re more likely to succeed, though, if you set process goals.

Process goals focus on day-to-day behaviors, and I noticed a great example of one on the gym whiteboard today.

At the beginning of 2019, we encouraged our members to write their goals for the year in a dedicated section of the whiteboard.  I was looking at that board today and noticed Dana’s goal, which was to run an extra 400 meters, at least 3 times per week. This is a process goal.

I don’t want to speak for Dana, but I’m guessing she set that goal because she wanted to either run more or improve her running (both of which are outcome goals). The way she worded it, though, set her up for success.

But why is that the case?

Why Process Goals are More Helpful than Outcome Goals

There are several reasons why process goals are more helpful than outcome goals.

Outcome goals are often too general.

Want to run faster, or squat heavier, or lose weight? Great—sort of.

Goals like these aren’t specific enough, and that makes you less likely to reach them. A nonspecific goal represents a lack of commitment. A nonspecific goal says, “I’ll get to that…someday.”

Can outcome goals be specific? Of course. You can decide you want to shave 15 seconds off your 200m pace, or add 10 pounds to your squat, or lose 20 pounds. However, goals like these are still not as strong as process goals, because….

Process goals have built-in game plans.

You’ve just set a health or fitness goal. Now what?

Process goals eliminate the answer to that question because the answer is built into the goal.

Think back to Dana. Dana wanted to be a better runner, so she set a goal to run three times per week. Is Dana becoming a better runner for it? You betcha—I see it every time I work out with her!

Process goals allow you to celebrate along the way (or to change things up).

When you set an outcome goal, you have one opportunity for success.

There’s no in between—you either succeed or you fail. Kind of daunting, no?

With process goals, you can celebrate ALL THE TIME! Process goals break big dreams into manageable pieces and give you lots of opportunities to feel good about your progress. Because success begets success, process goals are much more motivating than outcome goals.

Now, do people sometimes fail to achieve their process goals? Of course. The beauty is, you can make midcourse corrections to put yourself back on target.

Dana has been crushing her goal of 3 extra 400s per week, but what if she weren’t? She might realize she overcommitted and start with just twice per week instead. Or, she might start with 200s to build up to 400s.

There’s a lot of self-accountability built into goals like these, and it absolutely works in your favor.

You don’t have total control over outcome goals.

Let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds. Probably manageable for most people, but that doesn’t mean you have total control over whether it happens.

You can’t control outcomes, because they’re determined by a lot of different variables. You can only control behaviors. So, focus on behaviors.

Rather than obsessing over the end result of your efforts, just concentrate on the effort. Don’t think about losing 20 pounds—think about hitting the gym 5 times per week, or filling half of your plate with nonstarchy vegetables every day at lunch and dinner. You may or may not hit your exact weight loss target, but I guarantee you’ll get closer to it and be healthier for it if you just focus on simple behaviors.

Ready to Slay Some Goals?

Let us help makeover your goal and build you a roadmap for achieving it at a free goal-setting session! These sessions can take place over the phone or in person (or even via email, if you’re super busy!).

Click here to book a free 15-minute goal strategy session, or text us at 314-332-1074 for more timeslots.

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