July 1

Why Outcome Goals are a Recipe for Failure

Do you set outcome goals and wonder whe you struggle? If you’ve set an outcome goal before, this scenario might sound familiar.

You wake up on January 1st, determined to make this the best year of your life. You write down different types of outcome goals:

  • Lose weight

  • Make the money

  • Find the love of your life

After a few weeks, all your other goals become an afterthought. You get to the end of the year and don’t achieve any of your outcome goals. What if you set a process goal instead?

Why Setting an Outcome Goal Doesn’t Work

Outcome-based goals are a recipe for disappointment, addiction to achievement, envy, subpar performance and comparison.

When you focus on your performance goals or specific outcome goals, you’re putting all of your energy into the end result which you can’t control. Reading more self improvement books won’t do much to help you achieve your goal. The counterintuitive key to achieving an outcome goal is to set process goals

Two Examples: Shifting An Outcome Goal to Process Goals

When I started writing in 2009, there was nothing I wanted more than to write a book with a publisher. But in 2013, I stopped waiting to be picked, I abandoned the outcome goal, and instead shifted my focus to a process goal of writing 1000 words a day. Within 6 months of that performance goal and starting that habit, I was able to achieve a level of success beyond anything I thought was possible.

That’s when I realized setting outcome goals wasn’t very effective and a recipe for disappoinment.

Until 2012, James Clear had a decent readership on his blog, but it wasn’t the massive audience it is today. So, he set a process goal to publish two articles a week. In that time, the audience grew to over half a million subscribers. As a result he was able to achieve a level of performance that many aspiring authors strive for. Atomic Habits became a New York Times Best-Seller.

When I asked my readers about their greatest challenge with creative projects, many mentioned achieving outcome goals. When you set outcome goals, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Process goals on the other hand help you achieve your intended outcome, improve your peformance and make evertything more enjoyable.

Outcome Goals are Out of Your Control

outcome goals

You can’t control outcome goals. But you have much more control over how you spend your time, attention, and energy when you set process goals.

I can’t control how many people listen to a podcast episode, read a blog post or buy my books. But I can have more control over how many words I write, and how much effort I put into conducting interviews or writing books.

Dan Pink says that autonomy, purpose, and mastery are important part of what drive people. If you set an outcome goals, the first thing to go is autonomy. And since autonomy is essential for peak performance, you performance inevitable declines.

Process goals focus your energy, attention and time on what you can control. With process goals, the size of your audience doesn’t determine your purpose. The size of your heart does. Mastering your craft is about deliberate practice, commitment, consistency, and a focus on process goals. These are in your control. Outcome goals are not.

Outcome Goals Decrease Motivation

You might be one of those people who goes, guns blazing, out of the gate with five days at the gym, or for example, replacing all the cake in your fridge with broccoli (which I don’t recommend since cake is delicious).

First off, extreme behavioral change is unsustainable, so this almost never works. Second since you can’t sustain the behavior, you’re less less likely to accomplish your goal.

The accomplishment of a goal is one moment in time. The changes in behavior that enable you achieve your goal serve you for a lifetime. Not only that, nothing you accomplish will permanently alter your self-worth.

But the bigger problem with these goals and outcome-based performance goals is that you feel like a failure until you accomplish the performance goal.

The process is about finishing. Finishing games. Finishing workouts. Finishing film sessions. Finishing drives. Finishing reps. Finishing plays. Finishing blocks. Finishing the smallest task that you have right in front of you, and finishing it well.  -Ryan Holiday

Winning sporst teams, people who perform at a high level all focus on the process instead of the outcome.

Visible progress is our greatest source of motivation. With outcome goals, you overlook your progress, set goals, fail and struggle to stay motivated. With process goals, you’re able to detach from the outcome, perform at a higher level, and you end up achieving more than you ever imagined possible.

For example, say that you have set goals like sheeding a certain number of pounds or writing best-seller. When you step on the scale or check amazon, the pounds aren’t coming off and you haven’t sold any books. The reason you’re not going to accomplish these goals is because you’re not making progress.

Process Goals Improve Motivation and Performance

Let’s delve into the concept of process goals and how they can be a game-changer. Picture this: you’re not just ticking off tasks on a to-do list, but you’re immersing yourself in the journey, the process. You’re not just chasing an end result, but you’re savoring the steps that lead you there. Additionally, there are fewer moving parts you have to worry about. This is the essence of process goals.

They draw you into the moment, into the work itself, rather than keeping your eyes fixed on the distant horizon. It’s like taking a scenic route instead of a highway. You’re still reaching your destination, but you’re also soaking in the sights, sounds, and experiences along the way. This approach not only makes the journey enjoyable but keeps you motivated. Because when you’re engaged in the process, every step forward, no matter how small, feels like a victory. And that, my friend, is a powerful motivator the enhances all aspects of performance.

Process Goals Produce Clarity and Action

With an outcome-based goal setting, you’re always stuck with the question of “How is this going to happen”. According to Steven Kotler, clear goals are critical for peak performance. When you have a process-based goal setting, you gain clarity, and it’s much easier to take action. You know exactly what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do to achieve it.

When it comes to my writing, I have one goal every day: hit my word count. Putting a number in front of the goal amplifies the clarity of it. And the action is straight forward. Open up the writing software and start typing. Even if I don’t write something worth reading, I finish the day with a win. And every small win eventually results in bigger ones. That’s the beauty of process goals.

Unlike an outcome goal, process goals give you an opportunity to evaluate your performance, and adjust your strategy and the goals you want to achieve are more likely to happen.

3 Examples of Filters for Process Goals

  1. Is it in your control? Unless you can directly impact it with your behavior, then it’s off the table. Writers can control word counts. Salespeople can control the number of calls they make.

  2. Is it sustainable? Remember, you’re aiming for consistency over intensity. Otherwise, your effort will be unsustainable.

  3. Is it aligned with your outcome? You want to make sure the behavior contributes to the goal you have. If it’s losing weight, it’s the number of times you go to the gym. If it’s writing a book, it’s word count, or times spent writing.

Process Goals Make You Happier

When you’re able to honor your commitments and follow through on sub goals of making your art, it’s deeply satisfying. It gives you a sense of agency over your life and makes you realize that words have power. And a process-based, goal setting gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

With Process-Based Goals Your Outcomes Might Exceed Your Expectations

When I started writing 1000 words a day in 2013, I had no idea where it would take me. But it helped me to find my voice as a writer, self-publish a Wall-Street Journal best-seller, and land a 2-book deal with a publisher. I didn’t set any of those things as goals. My only goal was to wake up and write 1000 words. I’ve been doing it ever since and I will continue to do it for the rest of my life.

This simple habit has enabled me to write hundreds of articles, complete two books, and has led to numerous insights and breakthroughs.

If you want to accomplish your biggest goals, focus on the process instead of the prize. The prize might be greater than anything you ever expected.


You may also like