Two Types of Goals in Your Toolbox

How to Achieve and Maintain the Results You Want

Goals are a staple of the high-achiever’s diet.

They help us chart our progress. They hold us accountable.

There are two types of goals you can set. Both are valid. Which type you choose depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

Photo courtesy of @ Adobe Stock/butter45

Outcome goals describe a specific result you want to achieve. You’ve probably heard of the SMART criteria for writing good goals. The criteria can vary, depending on who you’re talking to. Personally, I like taking them a step further with SMARTER goals:

  • Specific. The more specific you can be in describing the result you want, the more likely you are to hit your target.
  • Measurable. If you can measure the outcome, you can also measure your progress towards it. This helps you know when you’ve achieved the goal, and can help keep you motivated along the way.
  • Action-oriented. Use an action verb. This helps remind you that you have to take action to achieve the goal. You can’t just sit back and let it be.
  • Risky. It’s okay to challenge or stretch yourself to do more than you’ve ever done before. But be careful: if you set a goal that’s too much of a stretch, deep down, you’ll know there’s no way you’re going to achieve it, and you’ll sabotage yourself from the beginning.
  • Time-bound. Put a deadline on it.
  • Exciting. If you’re not excited about it, why are you doing it? It may be a project you need to complete, but it’s not a goal you’re trying to achieve.
  • Relevant. Make sure you’re chasing your dreams, not someone else’s. This includes the dreams of your former and future selves; make sure the goal is right for where you are now in your life.

Habit goals describe an ongoing activity or process. Habit goals don’t have a deadline to them—they’re indefinite.

There is a lot of flexibility in whether you should set an outcome goal or a habit goal.

  • Are you already there? “I weigh 195 lbs” could describe an outcome or a habit, depending on whether I currently weigh more than 195. Use an outcome goal to reach a desired objective, then switch to a habit goal to maintain it.
  • Does the journey seem long? If the outcome goal of retiring comfortably at age 67½ is too far off for you to focus on, try the habit goal of investing 15% of your income towards retirement. Let the habit point you in the direction of the outcome. (This is also a form of breaking up a large goal into smaller sub-goals.)
  • Are you afraid of breaking the chain? I’m trying to develop the habit of daily journaling. From where I am, “I write in my journal every day” seems daunting. Phrased as a habit goal, I’m afraid of breaking the chain—once I’ve missed a day, I’ve failed! Instead, I’m setting the outcome goal “Write 400 journal entries by Dec 31”. I’ll end up in the same place, but the outcome goal seems much more approachable.
  • Have you tried it before? If you’ve tried one type of goal and failed, try reframing the goal as the other type. The new approach may make something click and this time, you’ll get it.

Both types of goals can help you achieve the results you want. Design the life you want, then make it happen. One goal at a time.

Question: Which type of goals are the most effective for you? Share your thoughts in the comments, or on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.

About

Colter writes software and blogs about personal growth and productivity. He lives in Silicon Valley (California) with his wife and children, recently took up golf, and watches mostly British TV shows.

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