These Are Not The Goals You're Looking For

There’s a good chance that if we looked back through recent history that we’d find goal-setting as a prevailing theme.

But these days, goals, setting goals, and talking about setting goals is all the rage. And with good reason too.

If we don’t know where we’re going, even if we’re talking a general direction, we’ll never know if we’re on the right track.

We can’t hit a target if we don’t know where the target is.

One thing that I’ve been learning is that not all goals are created equally. Some, well, are just better than others.

The good news is that almost any goal can be easily improved.

Types of Goals

In general, I’ve learned there are six types of goals you work with. There are technically two more we can add into the mix which I’ll touch upon in a minute but for now, let’s look at the six which are:

Outcome Goals - which focus on the outcomes or endpoint e.g. lose 15 pounds

Behavior Goals - which focus on the journey (the actions, processes, and behaviors) to get there e.g. move mindfully for 30 minutes a day

Avoid Goals - which focus on what you don’t want to do e.g. don’t eat “x.”

Approach Goals - which focus on what you do want to do e.g. include vegetables at every meal

Performance Goals - which focus on something you do that is largely extrinsically validated e.g. win

Mastery Goals - which focus on something you do that is largely intrinsically validated e.g. practice one new healthy meal each week

Now, the other two types of goals I mentioned are coach-centered and client-centered goals. This is more relevant when I work with my clients since it’s important to know whether or not the goal is something that is important to me or important to my client.

Since you’re going to be setting these goals, in theory, we should be working exclusively with client-centered goals (things that mean something to you so let’s work together to make that happen).

Using These Goal-Types

You may notice that each grouping of goal types above has similarities but fundamental differences. This is how we go from a decent goal to a great goal.

Decent goals are: Outcome, Avoid, Performance. These can work, but could also use some work.

Powerful goals are: Behavior, Approach, Mastery. These tend to produce much better results and more importantly, results that are sustainable.

What we want to do is move from decent goals into more powerful goals. That is, moving from Outcome to Behavior Goals, Avoid to Approach Goals or Performance to Mastery Goals.

For example, you’ve probably set a weight loss goal, say 10-15 lbs, for yourself at one point in time. Maybe it’s your current focus.

I’m going to guess that you’ve probably set this goal for yourself more than once. You’ve probably lost the weight before, but things change, life happens, and eventually, you find yourself looking to lose the weight again.

Is there anything wrong with this? Not at all. But what if there was a better way?

Instead of living or dying by the number on the scale, what if we focused on the small, daily actions that will help us inevitably reach this goal?

We’ll ultimately get to the same place, but the focus is much different. When we focus exclusively on the outcome, we’ll do anything to get to it - even if it isn’t sustainable or healthy.

In Scott Adam’s book, “How To Fail At Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” he talks about how outcome-oriented people spend every moment feeling short of your goal until you reach your goal. And then when you do reach your goal, you may celebrate for a moment but that’s only until you realize that you just lost the thing that was contributing so much to your drive and purpose.

When we instead focus on the small, consistent behaviors, over time, it will become a part of who we are. Things like eating slowly so not to over eat, proper portioning of our meals, or moving daily are all behaviors that can help us lose weight and never have it return.

With the latter approach, we’ll still reach our desired outcome, but by focusing on the little wins each day we put ourselves in a constant state of success and spend every moment feeling as if we’re moving a bit closer to becoming the person we want to be.

Are you starting to see how behaviors goals are much more powerful than outcome goals?

It’s a similar story for avoid v. approach and performance v. mastery goals. However, I find that the most common type of goal we set is the outcome goal.

To move from avoid goals to approach goals, simply focus more on what you want to do instead of what you don’t want to do. To move from performance goals to mastery goals, find out how you can make the process become the reward and not the result (very similar to outcome v. behavior goals).

Putting This Into Practice

If you’re currently pursuing certain goals for yourself, take a few moments to see if you can characterize them based on the goal types I listed out above. There’s a good chance you’re in the outcome-avoid-performance zone.

Not a problem.

You don’t have to change your goal but see if you can reframe them to be in the behavior-approach-mastery zone.

What you may find is that your goals may become way less intimidating. “Eat healthy” can be overwhelming since it lacks specifics. The same thing goes for “lose 10 lbs.” There are thousands of different things you can do to eat healthy or lose some weight. You could try to do all of them all at once, but I have a feeling both you and I know how that’s going to turn out.

What may end up being your biggest challenge is applying this additional layer of specificity. Going to lose 10 lbs to something concrete and actionable can be a bit of a challenge if not solely for the paradox of choice. Because there are so many ways to accomplish this, which one do you choose?

There is no wrong answer. But, identify the behaviors that actually mean something to you. Behaviors you want to do (versus avoid) and, ultimately, master.

Now, as an important clarification, I know I mentioned behaviors in the plural. Ideally, and to maximize our chance of success, we’re best served by focusing on one behavior at a time. Once we become consistent, not necessarily even proficient, with that behavior, then we can consider adding in another.

For example, when I work with my clients we introduce and then practice a habit or behavior for at least two weeks before introducing another. And we start out with foundational habits, too. Ones that are going to provide the biggest, most lasting change. And honestly, if I have clients that start to feel overwhelmed with the pace of the new habits, we simply return to our foundational habits and continue to focus on those. Even if the curriculum content has moved on to another habit, our daily practice remains on our foundation.

So don’t ever feel like you should be moving quicker than you are. You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Some days you’ll feel like you have it all figured out. Other days, you’ll feel like your world is crumbling beneath your feet.

Neither of these situations is necessarily true. Whether or not they are for you is irrelevant. What’s important is that you show up, put in the work to the best of your ability, and then adjust and adapt as you go.

Remember, better questions get us better answers. Likewise, better goals get us better results.

Now let’s get to it.

Evan CookComment