How to Set the Right Goals

Discover the secrets to setting the right goals and then actually accomplishing them.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #162

It's New Years! I just love New Years. It's the time of year we stop and reflect on the year ahead. And we set our resolutions. Those are the promises we make to ourselves so our lives will be better, stronger, and faster in the year ahead. We resolve to work out, lose weight, get a job, stand up for ourselves, and maybe even start a company. Our resolutions are often major life changes. At Bernice's urging, for example, Melvin has resolved to start showering once a week, even if he doesn't need it. He's very excited at the prospect. If it works, he says, next year he might even start using soap.

How to Set the Right Goals

Many of us don't have a Bernice to give us our goals and keep us on track. We must come up with our own resolutions. If we come up with the wrong ones, our chances of reaching them are only slightly higher than our chances of being hit by lightning after saying to our friend, "If I'm lying about this, let me be hit by lightning." We set resolutions like "I'll get back to a 32" waist" or "I'll quit smoking" or "I'll take over the world and live at Disney World free... Forever." These are great goals! But they're only part of the story.

Outcome Goals Set Direction

These are outcome goals. They are very inspirational. Who wouldn't want to live at Disney World? It's the only place in the world where it's a status symbol to have your hotel room infested by mice. Outcome goals inspire us so much that they provide all kinds of motivation. If you don't want to get up in the morning, just conjure up a quick mental fantasy of riding Peter Pan's Magic Ride 500 times with no waiting in line. You'll be so motivated you get right out of bed and go right to work to make it come true.

One of my outcome goals this year is to learn to sight-sing. This New Year's, we sang carols in four-part harmony. Young Nathaniel could not only sight-sing, it seemed like he had perfect pitch, could keep track of each part, could direct the chorus, and could do it all while reading Nietzsche and writing a book report. How inspiring! I quickly moved from inspiration to envy, followed by despair and depression that I'll never be half as good as this young man who's half my age. (Stupid kid.)

You see, outcome goals not only motivate, they can demotivate, because it's the outcome goals we use to measure our progress. If I were closer to achieving my goal using my outcome goal as a measure, that could be downright motivational in a good way. But if Nathaniel represents the me-I-want-to-be, I have a long, long way to go, and that's depressing.

Why You Need to Set Process Goals

Outcome goals don't tell you how to move forward, they just tell you where you're going. Most people only set outcome goals, which they then never meet. To turn the outcome into action, you need process goals. Process goals tell you what you should be doing each day or each week to reach your outcome goals. My outcome is to look like Tom Cruise, so I'll start by getting a 32-inch waistline by the end of the year. My process goal is to do 45 minutes of cardio three times a week. My process goal includes numbers, and is really specific, so I can measure whether I'm doing the cardio long enough and often enough.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.