Outcome, Performance and Process Goals

In this article, I'm going to talk about Outcome, Performance and Process Goals. I'll be talking about the differences between each and how to use them on a practical level.

The Outcome, Performance and Process Analogy

I was looking after a friends place who happens to live in the country, and on a beautiful sunny day, I decided to venture out towards a nearby castle.

Given that I was walking in an unfamiliar area, it was necessary for me to keep glancing up towards the castle in the distance, just to make sure I was heading in the right direction. As I continued to walk, I realised how similar the process of walking towards a destination is to the achievement of a goal.

  • The castle in the distance represented the outcome portion of my goal.
  • Keeping a close-eye on the upcoming terrain represented performance (in so much that each small step brought me a little closer to my destination). 
  • Lastly, the attention I paid to each individual step, watching my footing on the uneven terrain, represented the process portion of my goal.

You see each portion is vital to the achievement of a goal. If I were to keep my head up and focus only on the castle in the distance (the outcome), then I wouldn’t have been focusing on what was right in front of me, or watching where I was putting my feet. Conversely, if I were to focus only on the ground ahead, then I may have lost sight of the castle in the distance and walked aimlessly in the wrong direction.

What Am I Babbling About? Outcome, performance and process goals should work synergistically. If you only focus on the prize without looking at where you’re stepping, you’ll eventually trip or stand in sh*t. If you only focus on how and where you’re stepping, you may feel like you're achieving something because you're walking, but at the same time lose sight of where you originally set out to be.

The Solution: I recommend starting the day by reading or rewriting your outcome goal (looking off to that castle and getting your bearings). This ensures that every step you take for the day is in the right direction.

Once you’ve started your day with that glance off into the distance, your focus should turn to each individual step.

Then it’s simply a case of rinsing and repeating the process, starting each day with that glance off into the distance, then putting one foot in front of the other.

Outcome – Direction
Process – Quantity
Process – Quality

Put simply, outcome goals are the desired end result. These are the goals that give a destination in which to move towards. Even though my steps to goal setting article focuses predominantly on the setting of outcome goals, my day-to-day focus is on performance and process goals.

Goal Examples

  • Outcome – Winning a body transformation competition
  • Performance – Completing squats, deadlifts and bench 2x per week and adding weight to the bar gradually over time
  • Process – Lifting every rep of every exercise with correct form, feeling each movement and breathing correctly

Typically, there’s a correlation between the type of goal, and the amount of control you have over the result. So for example

  • Outcome Goals – Small percentage of direct control.
  • Performance Goals – Medium percentage of direct control.
  • Process Goals – Major percentage of direct control.

So for instance, I have a large amount of control over the number of exercises I complete each week, as well as how I perform each exercise and how hard I push myself. I don't however, have control over how hard my fellow competitors train. Therefore, the winning of a body transformation competition (an outcome goal), is not directly under my control. Since this is the case with just about every outcome goal, I've found it unwise to attach my self-worth to an outcome. I set outcome goals to give myself direction, whereas I use performance and process goals to keep me on track.

When I set body transformation goals I don’t have direct control of how my body partitions calories, how it releases hormones, how much fat it burns, the amount of muscle it builds and how my weight fluctuates. I can however, control how much food I put in my mouth, how healthy I eat, how much water I drink, how much time I devote to cardio, how much effort I put into my training and how early I go to bed. All of these actions are under my control and influence the things outside of my direct control.

Practical Examples

Here are some examples of some of my day-to-day and weekly performance/process targets. I sometimes merge them together.

Daily Goals

  • Turn off all electrical appliances (computer, TV, etc) 30 minutes before bed.
  • Eat two servings of veg a day.
  • Eat two servings of fresh fruit a day.
  • Eat a lean source of protein with every meal.
  • Walk all short journeys as opposed to using the car.
  • Walk for at least 30 minutes.
  • Visualise and write down my goal each morning.
  • Stick to a 95% compliance rate with my diet plan.
  • Drink at least 3 litres of water throughout the day.

Weekly Goals

  • Complete at least 10 weighted exercises with strict form, ensure correct breathing
  • Eat x amount of calories – following my diet plan

Within reason, I have a fairly large amount of control over the targets above. I also have weekly body composition targets to ensure I’m on track with my outcome goal. This is where monitoring and adjusting comes into play.

Monitor and Adjust

Day-to-day I focus on my performance/process targets, but I also check up on my weekly body composition goals. If my body composition goals are on track I keep everything the same. If not, I adjust my targets.

So for example, if my body fat stays the same for two weeks in a row, I typically respond in one of two ways. First of all, I'll check my performance goal compliance (did I follow my plan 100%?). If the answer is yes, then I’ll respond by decreasing the number of calories in my plan, increasing the intensity or duration of my cardio, or both.

This is all about getting into a feedback loop and choosing appropriate actions to get things back on track. This is why I believe it’s important to distance myself emotionally from an outcome.

All too often I see people get a week or so of bad results, and instead of adjusting their activities to get back on track, they sabotage their plans completely. This is usually because they connect failed outcomes with who they are as people and begin to see themselves as failures. Instead of just using outcomes as feedback to adjust their approach, they become emotionally distraught and give up. I know of this first-hand, because it's what I used to do!

Performance and process goals help break outcome goals into smaller, more manageable chunks. Sometimes that walk to that castle in the distance can seem so far, that it almost feels hopeless. When you focus on each individual step, however, you forget about how far away your goal is and focus only on making each step as perfect as possible.

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