How to Use Process vs. Outcome Goals for Success

Everyone is talking about the need of setting goals and how to set them: long-term, short-term, process, and outcome goals. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to set objectives around creating goals; else, we won’t get anything done, right?

Setting goals is a vital component of achieving the life we desire. They are the tools with which we can construct that life. However, as with any tool, it’s critical to understand the purpose for which they’re utilized and how to use them appropriately.

There are a few different perspectives on goal setting. Looking at things from various perspectives gives us a more complete view of how we want to go about accomplishing our life objectives thru outcome goals.

1. Outcome Goal vs. Process Goal

We view our goals via the lens of an outcome goal when we know and state clearly what we want. This is a “major desire,” such as landing a specific career or selling a home.

A process aim is concerned with how you might go about placing yourself to achieve your “grand wish.”

There will definitely be smaller goals, or milestones, along the route in order to arrive at the end result. These small goals add up and keep you moving in the right direction toward your end goal.

Let’s take the example of going to college to show how each of these goals works and how you would go about achieving your goal.

Getting a degree is the end goal of attending college. We specify which degree we want to obtain and even envision ourselves wearing our cap and gown on graduation day, holding the degree in our chosen field. In this situation, the aim is specific and measurable.

We must consider all of the aspects that go into acquiring a degree in order to obtain one. If we want to get a bachelor’s degree, we should expect to spend four years in school.

Each year is organized into semesters or trimesters (depending on the school), with a number of required classes in each semester/trimester.

The classes will be chosen based on the degree requirements, with each class having its own set of prerequisites. Getting a degree, as you can see, is a process that can be broken down into smaller and smaller goals.

The objective of a process is fairly nebulous. You can design your process in a variety of ways, but the end objective will always be the same.

2. When to Focus on an Outcome Goal or a Process Goal

When it comes to an outcome or process goal, there is no need to make a decision. We require both of them, and we require them to collaborate.

The story of the blind men and the elephant[1] is probably familiar to you. It basically states that if you surrounded an elephant with blind individuals who had no idea what an elephant was and asked them to describe it to you, you would get wildly varied responses because each of them could only touch a little piece of the animal.

You might be able to piece together a comprehensive picture if you combine all of their descriptions.

We can think about the process and result in goals in the same way. The outcome is the elephant’s description, whereas the process aim is the total of all descriptions.

Unsurprisingly, a process objective will focus on the method and performance that will assist you in achieving your outcome goal.

3. What Do Outcome Goals Accomplish?

“The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.” -Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky, a 20th-century composer, gave us some excellent advice that we may apply to goal-setting as well. Mr. Stravinsky was implying that when we have fewer options, we are more creative.

Consider yourself strolling through the cereal aisle. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of cereals in front of you, and making a decision feels difficult.

You recall that your doctor recently advised you to reduce your sugar consumption (bummer). Simultaneously, you now have a constraint to work with while selecting a cereal. You can now concentrate solely on cereals that do not include refined sugar.

You start looking at cereals you’ve never noticed before! This allows you to focus on which cereals appeal to you the most under the constraints you’ve been given, and you’re able to do so because your end aim was to quit consuming sugar.

Because end goals are so clear, they assist us in determining the path we want to take in life. Life can be meaningless without an end aim. And there’s no purpose to get out of bed and put on pants every day if there’s no significance.

4. What Do Process Goals Accomplish?

After you’ve decided on the desired outcome, you can figure out how to get there. Consider it like deciding where to go on a road vacation. You can map out which roads you want to take once you know where you’re going.

Although it establishes a process, the process goal is less specific than the outcome goal. Process goals feel more attainable than end goals, which might help you avoid procrastinating.

Let’s return to the college diploma example. You make the decision to pursue a career as a doctor (an outcome goal). To become a doctor, you must follow a step-by-step procedure that describes all of the steps you must do (process).

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree from an authorized institution or university is one of the first steps. What institution will you attend and what major will you pursue? Those are the decisions you’ll have to make along the journey, and no one option is better than the others.

There may be some factors over which you have no complete control. You might not be accepted to your first-choice medical school, for example.

That doesn’t rule out the possibility of becoming a doctor; you’ll just need to apply to several schools as part of your goal-setting process.

Although this may be a little different road than you had hoped for, the end objective will still be within your grasp.

A process goal, once again, is not as rigid. They lay out the steps for you to follow in order to achieve your goal, but your method does not have to be the same as everyone else’s.

Another advantage of process goals is that they might help to alleviate the stress and anxiety that often accompany pondering a large outcome objective. Process goals break down a larger goal into smaller, more manageable chunks.

They assist us in focusing on one activity at a time while ensuring us that each step contributes to the overall aim of achieving the desired conclusion.

5. The Problem with Outcome Goals

The ability to commit to big goals necessitates a lot of emotional and mental energy. While deciding on an outcome objective is simple, sticking to it is a different issue.

One of the most significant strategies to achieve self-development is to create outcome goals, but if you focus too much on these goals, you’ll burn out.

Whatever you want to do, whether it’s getting a degree, becoming a professional athlete, or starting a business, you must be mindful of the dangers of becoming excessively focused on your end goals. Unnecessary strain on yourself is a key issue that result objectives can cause.

When you have a goal that seems far away or difficult to obtain, you’ll be anxious the entire time until you achieve it. It could take days, weeks, months, or even years for this to happen. If you don’t know how to deal with pressure and stress, you’ll eventually give up.

Another problem with outcome objectives is that they might make you feel defeated. Outcome goals are a double-edged sword because, while they set you up for big wins, they can also leave you feeling lost. If you don’t meet your target, you might feel compelled to compare yourself to others.

It doesn’t imply you’re a failure just because you didn’t obtain the results you wanted. Returning to the degree aim, how would you feel if your outcome goal is to become a lawyer in five years, but you’re still in law school at the end of your timeline?

When setting an outcome target, keep in mind that success does not have a single definition. It’s very acceptable to adjust your aim or devise a new strategy to achieve it.

6. Why Process Goals Are Better

Video games are one of the best ways to observe the power of process goals in action. In the game Pokémon, for example, you start with just one Pokémon and work your way up by fighting other trainers, acquiring new Pokémon, and making your squad the best it can be.

Each process goal you achieve motivates you to set greater goals and work harder. You don’t begin by presenting yourself with the most difficult challenge possible, just like you wouldn’t in Pokémon.

You begin with a simple, doable challenge that you can easily complete. Even better, a process goal might help you figure out exactly what you need to do to move forward.

Many people are unaware that when they set an outcome goal, they are actually committing to hundreds or thousands of process objectives.

Rather than starting with something intimidating, such as climbing Mt. Everest, simply put one foot in front of the other. You’ve already attained the desired outcome goal before you realize it.

While end goals are important in your life, and it’s good to set them every now and then, it’s preferable for your mental health to start with something simpler and not push yourself too hard.

7. Pros and Cons of Process Goals

It will be much easier for you to assess where you are and hold yourself accountable if you have defined process goals.

However, you should not set process goals that are too lofty. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of process goals to help you make the most of goal-setting.

8. Advantages

It is easier to achieve

It’s no secret that achieving outcome goals takes a long time. Meanwhile, process goals do not necessitate much patience or dedication. Your self-confidence will rise if you continuously visualize yourself attaining your objectives.

It gives you clearer direction

Assume you wanted to open a restaurant. You don’t just put your menu out there and hope for customers the next day. You must register your company, assemble a team, and perfect your recipes. This will take months to complete. 

You don’t have a clear picture of the actions required to reach your goal if you merely tell yourself to create a restaurant. You can wind up wasting your money and time if you don’t have any direction.

It’s not overwhelming

Outcome goals might be difficult to understand and manage. A process goal, on the other hand, is easier to attain since it has already been stripped down. As a result, benefits might be visible in a short period of time.

Participating in a marathon, for example, may appear unachievable to someone who is not athletic. Set reasonable process goals before your race, such as obtaining an athletics coach, joining a track club, and running five times per week.

Having these simple aims is an excellent technique for achieving your goal and possibly earning a medal.

9. Disadvantages

You’ll have smaller wins

While process objectives will yield outcomes, the rewards will not be life-changing, nor will they provide the same amount of fulfillment as an outcome goal. They are, nonetheless, sufficient to propel you onward.

You will stay in your comfort zone

To grow, you must step outside of your comfort zone. Process goals, on the other hand, will not push you out of your comfort zone. Worse, it has the potential to limit your thoughts.

No room for reflection

Another disadvantage of process goals is that you will be too preoccupied with results to think about reflection. Either you achieve your tiny goals or you don’t.

You may feel defeated as a result of this. Outcome goals, on the other hand, carry greater weight, making it simpler to get back on your feet.

10. What If You Don’t Know What You Want?

Not knowing what you want is one of the most difficult tasks someone can face. If you don’t know what you want to achieve, figuring out your approach can be practically difficult.

If this is the case, consider making figuring out your end goal your new outcome goal. Then you get to choose how you’re going to figure out what you want your outcome objective to be. 

Some ways to sort through this process might include:

  • Reading books and blogs
  • Writing a brainstorm list
  • Working with a coach or mentor
  • Discovering your core values

Final Thoughts

The only thing that is definite in life is that it is unpredictable. Yet, as humans, we strive for some kind of certainty by deciding on huge goals and then spending our time achieving all of the little goals that make up the process that brings us to our final destination.

Obstacles may inevitably exist, but as long as your process goal allows for minor deviations, you can be confident that you will reach your overall goal.

As irritating as it may be to hear that goals are a fundamental aspect of life, they do help us get things done. It could be beneficial to take note of how you spontaneously set objectives for yourself without even realizing it.

For example, one of your current outcome goals could be to create a success mentality. Congratulations on accomplishing a minor process goal by reading this article!


1. American Literature: The Blind Men and the Elephant

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