Goal Setting 101: Outcome Goals vs. Process Goals

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goal setting

Now that the dust has cleared, it’s time to get real with some serious goal setting for 2012.

But first, it’s important to lay a foundation for goal setting.

That’s the purpose of this post. We don’t want to be just another bunch of idiots who set a bunch of weak goals where nothing comes of it do we? Of course not, that’s why breaking things down is so important.

2011 was extremely good to me and quite honestly, I have no doubts that it’s because it was a mission driven year. Even though my goals/visions were small and nothing complicated, there was no floating, there was no “I hopes,” or “I wish,” or “maybe good things will happen this year.” There was only a sense of certainty and unwavering intent to make my reality.

This next year will be no different. In fact, I’ve made some new distinctions on personal development and life in general so I will be expanding my goals to encompass more. Specifically, I feel like creating goals around the 6 categories of life framework will be all encompassing and optimal. I’ll talk more about this later.

In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it. -Robert Heinlein

Why Does Goal Setting Matter?

Goal setting is really the basis behind creative living. When you consciously decide who you want to be, what you want to do, what you want life to be about, you are using your consciousness to create yourself and your life.

When you don’t do this, the default shows up. What’s the default? Generally the default results in:

  • Crappy relationships
  • Being overweight and unhealthy
  • A reactive lifestyle
  • No sense of connectedness
  • Lacking financial abundance
  • Feelings of unhappiness
  • Holy shit I’m negative.

    But that is reality. Just look around.

    Clear goal setting is the basis for how we can rise above the default and live lives that are glorious.

    Outcome Goals vs. Process goals

    Outcome goals are what you want to achieve, process goals are what you are going to do.

    Another way of putting this is process goals are action steps, outcome goals are visions. We all know people who only set outcome goals (most people). New years resolutions are the prime example of this. “I’m going to lose weight” is a classic one.

    How often do these outcome goals work out?


    A goal without a plan is just a wish. -Larry Elder

    We don’t need some study to tell us this because we’ve all experienced it for ourselves. There are probably many explanations as to why the goals people set never end up meaning anything, however, the fact that the declaration “I’m going to lose weight” lacks the most important thing it could, the how, is a good start. “I’m going to lose weight” lacks a specific and defined process of what must be done.

    What are you going to do on a daily basis to lose weight?

    What values, beliefs, perceptions, habits, evaluations, decisions and actions have gotten you to where you are and how must they be upgraded in order to achieve weight loss?

    Obviously it’s important to make your goals “SMART” (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) so I’m not even going to cover this because it’s been beaten to death.

    However, having SMART goals isn’t enough. Someone can create an outcome goal that is perfectly SMART yet lacks the processes to actually make it a reality. “I’m going to lose 10lbs by March 1, 2012.” This goal is SMART.

    But how?

    What are you going to do that’s different on a daily basis?

    What habits are you going to change?

    What daily actions are you going to take?

    Without a defined process it is highly likely the person will fail just like the person who blindly states “I’m going to lose weight” will fail. There’s really no difference and here’s the reality for both goal setters: going to the gym will become painful, passing up deserts will start to suck, eating plain foods will begin to get boring, and before you know it that person will try their hardest to forget making the goal in the first place (cognitive dissonance will take root so the person will either a. forget b. rationalize aka bullshit themselves).

    Simply stated, process goals keep you on track and ensure that you take the daily actions necessary to achieve an outcome.

    Let’s imagine some crazy scenario where you had to choose between outcome goals and process goals. Process goals would definitely be the better choice. I think we all realize this truth when we contemplate it. Outcome goals are almost always nothing but a pipe dream. How many people do you know that think they’re going to be millionaires?

    Yet simultaneously they have literally NO process for actually becoming a millionaire. They have no skills, no great ideas, no network, no financing for a new business venture, very little education or the wrong education, and no work ethic or hustle.

    This is a pipe dream.

    What if those people instead of blindly having the outcome goal of becoming a millionaire only had process goals instead? Maybe their process goals were to read 1 personal development book per month, read 1 article on developing new skill sets a day, and to go to 1 business networking meeting per week.

    Who’s more likely to become a millionaire?

    The person who has the outcome goal with absolutely no process? Or the person with process goals that are congruent to becoming a millionaire but never actually stated anything as an outcome goal?

    I think we know the answer. It’s obvious that the outcome goal-er will be just another schmuck in fantasy land, while the process goal-er will be someone who jumps onto a path that might result in millionaire status.

    Here’s the perfect summary of what I’m talking about:

    Losers have goals, winners have systems.

    In other words, having a bunch of ‘outcomes’ doesn’t mean shit without the process (aka system) for achievement. The system is what will take you to where you ultimately want to go.

    Goal Setting: Outcome Goals and Process goals examples

    So let’s look at some specific examples of optimal goal setting (this may or may not be a personal example).

    SMART Outcome goal: Pay off my entire student loan debt (roughly $8,000) by July 1, 2012.
    SMART Process goal: Earn an additional $8,000 by July 1, 2012 by gaining new SEO clients. Gain new SEO clients by:
    • Create 3 new webpages targeting terms like “utah SEO” that are influential and contain a strong call to action. All 3 pages must be completed by January 31st.
    • Create win/win relationships with people I have formally worked with to sell my freelance SEO services. Propose the idea and commission structure to 5 people by January 31st.
    • Create a professional SEO sales proposal that can be sent out easily to interested prospects. Design and messaging must be top notch and must be completed by January 31st.
    SMART Outcome goal: Get shredded
    SMART Process goal:

    Cut bodyfat percentage to under 8% by dropping precisely 5 lbs of fat while maintaining muscle mass, here’s what I will do:

    • Cut out all processed carbohydrates Monday thru Saturday and keep my total caloric intake roughly 300-600 under maintenance levels. Sunday I may ‘cheat’ so long as my total caloric intake that day is under 2500.
    • Lift weights with a minimum of 3 days per week for a minimum of 45 minutes. Each session much be intense and dynamic. Each session must center around heavy compound lifts. Get some sort of cardio session in everyday. Jiu Jitsu 4-5 times a week, 30 mins of walking and running on non Jiu Jitsu days.
    • Eat around 200 grams of protein per day coming from mostly whole food sources: beans, whey, chicken, salmon, and eggs. I will also focus on maximizing my nutrition intake through fruits and plants.
    SMART Outcome goal: Stop feeling so timid around my boss
    SMART Process goal:

    Stop feeling so timid around my boss by replacing old inferiority beliefs with new ones:

    • Create a new set of visualizations I do every morning in the shower
    • Create 3 new incantations I can repeat to myself while driving to work every morning that beat out the old inferiority beliefs I have stored up in my mind. Do this for 30 days straight then reassess going forward.

    Warning: do not put this off!

    Start to think more about process goals and less about outcome goals. I hope this post has inspired you to begin evaluating goals through a new light. Maybe it’s time to modify some of those new years resolutions to include the process? Just a thought. ;) By the way, I’ve completed my 2012 goals if you’d like to check them out.

About Sam Lloyd

Hey, I'm the creator of theSAMeffect. I share ideas that help you live a bad-ass life. Click here to learn more. Twitter | Facebook | Subscribe


  1. Natalie says:

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    Brilliant article which means a lot to me at this stage of my life! I’ve spent far too much time on outcome goals and left wondering why things did not work out as they should! This article also goes well with the one about expecting and overcoming adversity! Thanks!

    • Sam Lloyd says:

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      Good to hear Natalie! I know this distinction has helped me out immeasurably :)

  2. Warning: Illegal string offset 'keywords_time' in /home3/samlloyd/public_html/wp-content/plugins/internal-link-building-marios/internal-link-building-marios.php on line 105

    That is good stuff, Sam! I was just putting my finishing touches on this years goal and I went back through to and adding a few more process goals that align with the outcome goals. Thank you!

  3. Lea says:

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    So true. I see so many people stuck on the outcome goal with no system for achievement. Then they are frustrated when the results don’t materialize but it like connecting the dot to me.

  4. Goal Setting says:

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    Having a process is very important for keeping your goal on track. It also helps a lot to write your goals down (as you have done). Doing that activates a part of your brain that allows your unconscious mind to seek ways to accomplish the goal without any extra effort from you. It gives your goal setting some extra push. This is a great way to start 2012.

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