On Goal Setting: Results vs. Process

I had a daily writing goal in 2015, and I hit it! I wrote 365 days last year. But this is my first post in three months, so clearly I had no blogging goal, haha. Maybe I need one! (Note to self…)

Late last year, I had a couple of epiphanies about goals. The first is that I’d become a one-year goal setting and goal achieving ninja. I’d successfully set and hit one-year goals for several years. BUT I was achieving a succession of one-year goals without any long-term plan. My friend Colette suggested a book called Five: Where Will You Be Five Years From Today? I completed all the exercises over three morning writing sessions and walked away with a concrete vision of what I want to see in five years. Big wake up call: my son will be in his final year of secondary school in five years. Better be sure I’m raising the man I want to see in 2021!

The second epiphany is that I’m in a good place overall, both personally and professionally, and it didn’t happen overnight. This has become a bit of an obsession. I traced back healthy eating, for instance. I am not claiming to be the cleanest eater in the world, but I bet I’m doing pretty good compared to the average American. It began in 2002, when I got pregnant. It was the first time in my life I remember questioning what I ate, considering that my personal nutritional choices would also affect the baby growing inside me. I cut out all caffeine during my pregnancy, and began eating organic produce. After my son was born and began eating solid foods, I bought organic for him and conventional for my husband and me, and asked myself one day, “Why would you want only the best for him, but not for yourself?” I am sure we spend far more than most 3-person households on food, and it’s about quality, not quantity. We forgo other luxuries because food quality is a high priority for us.

I’m happy we have healthy eating habits, and each year since 2002, we’ve made some adjustments that at the time didn’t seem major, but as an accumulation of habits, lead to really positive outcomes.

One memorable story I've heard about goal setting was from a teacher who insisted that a 25-pound weight loss goal he’d set in January, and had not happened yet by December 1 of that year, would not have happened had he not written it down. After Thanksgiving, he buckled down, disciplined himself for the following month, worked out like a fiend, and by December 31 he’d hit his goal.

Yay for him, but what I remember most is that the next year that weight came back! To my knowledge, the number on his scale has continued to go up and down over the years, because he has always focused solely on the result goal, and not on a process goal.

So I’ve been looking at goal setting very differently. Instead of focusing on an just an achievement, I’m mostly focusing on behaviors, habits, and rituals that can lead to an outcome I want.

Now that I’ve written that, it seems silly and self-explanatory. But business people can get carried away with end results ("Just bullet point it for me!"), totally ignoring the means. And the means are what lifestyle, and quality of life, are all about.

How are your 2016 goals coming along? Are you more of an end result goal setter, or a process goal setter, or both? 

Process vs. Product Goals

It's about that time of year. Not quite Q4, but late enough in the year to think about my progress against my annual goals. The good news is that I'm doing great. I'm on track. But, for the first time in years, my big goal this year was not a product goal, but a process goal.

I didn't do it on purpose. But I'm reading a lot this year that challenges the current business mindset that an annual goal is the sum total of your year's efforts. If I did that, I might have set a goal to write a book this year.

But I've published before, and there was never big romance in that for me anyway. I just wanted to get better at writing. In fact, I want to be great at it. I'd like to be as confident in my writing as I am in my speaking. I'm not tied down to any specific form that my writing will take. So instead of setting a goal to write or publish a book, for instance, my goal was to write every day this year.

Every day.

After a couple of months creating the daily writing habit (about 66 days, and I wasn't even trying), I took a writing class. Having specific feedback from my teacher as well as other students helped me increase the quality of my writing dramatically. I read several books and followed their great writing prompts, found a dedicated writing partner / peer reviewer, and am ironically exploring an opportunity to write for book publication again. Not because I've been focused on getting published again. But because, instead of obsessing over the outcome ("product"), I've focused on the everyday work of writing ("process").

I've written every single day this year, and because much of my writing has been by hand, in a notebook, the best I can do is estimate my word count. In the first eight months of the year, I've written somewhere almost 160,000 words. The rough equivalent of three novels, if you're looking for a benchmark.

Would my year be going differently if I'd set an annual goal of "52 blog posts of 1,000 words each," or "write a book?" Hard to say. And there are probably goals that are clearest as end result goals. But I am completely happy with and excited about my results from focusing this year on process instead of product.