The difference between “outcome goals” and “action goals” can make or break your resolution.
Let’s start with an example: imagine you want to lose 15 lbs., get stronger, and see muscle definition.
Here are the two different types of goals you might set:
a. I’m going to lose 15 lbs in the next 3 months.
b. I’m going to go to the gym at 7:30 am, 2 times a week, Mondays and Thursdays, for the next 3 months; and I’m going to eat according to dietary principles “z” exclusively for the next 90 days.
Goal “a” is a goal for an outcome, goal “b” is a goal for action.
First, notice that both these goals are specific. A vague version of these goals would be: “I’ll lose weight,” or “I’m going to start going to the gym and eating better.” Being specific makes both these goals better than average.
But there are important differences between “outcome goals” and “action goals.”
You can DO an action goal. Because of this, every day has the potential to be a 100% success–a “win.” You can precisely track and monitor how well you’re doing. Every day you either completed the desired action or you didn’t. This allows you to set up simple and clear accountability processes.
On the other hand, a goal for an outcome requires a potentially unlimited number of unspecified actions. It provides no daily guidance. There’s no obvious way to measure your accountability on a daily basis. And you can only experience success after the entire goal is completed. While you can measure your overall progress toward an outcome goal, e.g., how much weight have you lost so far, you can’t achieve the daily “wins” that come with completing the simple actions that are inherently part of an action goal.
It might sound like it’s automatically better to have action goals instead of outcome goals. But that depends on the situation. Here’s how it works…
When an “outcome goal” is optimal: If you have a track record of consistently achieving this goal in the past, and there’s no question about your ability to do it, then an outcome goal is right for you. A simple example: your goal is to drive to a favorite restaurant for dinner. You know exactly how to get there and you have full confidence that you can do it based on past experience. You can focus on the outcome of where you want to end up–at the restaurant. However, if you’re visiting an unfamiliar town, going to an unfamiliar restaurant, you’ll need turn-by-turn guidance/goals in order to arrive at your destination.
When an “action goal” is needed: If it’s not obvious that you’ll automatically achieve your outcome by simply focusing on the outcome, then you’ll benefit from specific “action goals.” The more difficult and uncertain your task, the more important this is. This was the case in the unfamiliar restaurant example above, and also this is the case for most people’s fitness goals.
As I alluded to above, action goals also lend themselves better to various accountability strategies. The right accountability can dramatically boost your chances of succeeding. If a goal is important to you, this can be critical, but the principles and tactics of accountability strategies is a whole other topic that I won’t get into now. If you’d like me share my thoughts on that topic let me know here.
BUT, action goals cannot exist in isolation…
Action goals serve a larger purpose: your overall desired outcome. When you have action goals taking the actions is your immediate focus, but you must also check in at appropriate intervals to ensure your actions are achieving your overall desired outcome. If not, you need to re-evaluate your strategy. The specific turns you make while driving must take you to the desired restaurant. The exercise and dietary actions must to improve your body in specific ways: like losing that 15 pounds you want to lose.
Questioning your action strategy too often can be detrimental. This can be the “watched pot never boils” syndrome…and can cause you to stop taking actions before they can realistically achieve the desired effect. There’s an art to balancing evaluating and setting overall strategy and focusing on taking the determined actions fully. A systematic approach to balancing this well is something I’ve worked on developing over the years with clients. I’ve found that for most people, a serious “outcome goal” and strategy check-in every three months tends to work well. Between those check-ins, it’s all about action and implementation of the determined strategy.
Getting clear about the difference between actions and outcomes is necessary to avoid what I call the “tried that” delusion.
The “tried that” delusion is something I’ve seen frequently prevent people from ever getting the outcomes they desire–and it’s a simple mental error that you can avoid once you understand it. I’ll explain that tomorrow.
To health and life,