"I want to lose 20 pounds."|
"I want to run a marathon."
"I want to feel better."
No matter your reason for making lifestyle changes, you most likely have one or more goals you're working towards. Maybe you've jumped in with both feet with little planning or preparation and you're just going for it. Perhaps you've been down this road before unsuccessfully, so this time you're taking your time and setting thoughtful goals to ensure success. Should you aim high, setting ambitious, long-term goals? Should you be more reasonable and set small goals to work toward one at a time?
Here's a curveball: What if you're asking all the wrong questions? Perhaps your success is actually more about the path you're taking to get there and less about the ultimate outcome.
Product Goals Versus Process Goals
If you've ever hired a personal trainer or health coach, one of the first things they will do in your initial consultation is learn about why you're there and what you're hoping to achieve. This will lead into a discussion of your product and process goals. Product goals are the end result you're trying to achieve, while process goals are the action steps necessary to complete the goal successfully. While product goals are important for motivation and give you something to work toward, they can become a source of discouragement if you don't meet the goal by your desired deadline. For instance, if your goal is to cut all sugar out of your diet by August 1st and you don't do it, you will have failed if you're only focusing on the end result.
On the other hand, process goals are about making positive changes regardless of the outcome. To use the aforementioned example, a process goal to help you cut out sugar might be to stop drinking soda and other sugary beverages. If you're doing that, even if you haven't cut out all sugar by August 1st, you've still been successful because you're taking the necessary steps that will eventually lead to your success. Think of process goals as the building blocks leading toward your product goals, building healthy habits one step at a time. The more process goals you work to complete, the more healthy habits you develop that become a part of you. Then it becomes even easier to accomplish your product goals because you're continually adding the tools to your arsenal that you'll need to be successful.
Do you tend to jump from one weight-loss program to the next when you don't see the results you were promised? Is it keto this month and Paleo next? Do you find yourself scanning your favorite magazines, always looking for the next big thing? Perhaps that's because you're too focused on the product goal (weight loss) and less focused on the process. If you can shift to a more equal balance between the two, you might find that you can stick with a specific program longer. When you do that, you get a better idea of what is working, what isn't and then make educated adjustments.
One type of goal is not better than the other, so ideally, you'll use both types in combination for maximum success. Think of it like planning a vacation: Of course you need to select a destination, but you also need a roadmap for how you'll get there. The most successful goal-setters, regardless of the type of goal or who is setting it, use both process and product goals.
Putting It Into Practice
In order to conceptualize exactly how you'd combine these goals in practice, let's take a look at a few simple examples.
Scenario #1: Bob wants to walk his first 5K in May.
Completing a 5K in May is Bob's product goal, but he needs to create actions steps (process goals) that will help him be successful. His process goals could include:
Scenario #2: Jane wants to lose 20 pounds by January 15th.
Losing the weight by a certain date is Jane's product goal, but leaving it as is leaves her without a plan of action. She would most likely find herself frustrated along the journey without a clear direction or day-to-day objective.
5 "Tricks" for Goal-Setting Success