Why Focusing On Process Over Outcome Matters

Written by VersusThu Aug 18 2022
Why Focusing On Process Over Outcome Matters

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We all have goals in life, no matter how big or small. While it might look like an athlete became famous “overnight,” their success probably took years of dedication and training.It’s important to remember that there are two different types of goals: outcome goals and process goals.There’s nothing wrong with wanting an outcome goal, whether you hope to one day participate in the Olympics or make a certain amount of money as an athlete.We know that some of the most internationally-known athletes focus on their goals to ensure they have the best career possible.

We all have goals in life, no matter how big or small. Whether we are talking about sports, business, or life in general, everyone seems to understand that the most successful people could get where they are because they had very clear goals in mind. However, it’s easy to think that entrepreneurs and athletes get where they are because they were obsessed with achieving that ranking, status, or financial goal. 

Of course, this isn’t usually how it all unfolds. There’s a saying by a famous author, Tom Clancy, that applies here. He once said that overnight success is “ten years in the making,” and the quote is certainly accurate in the athletic world. While athletes might become famous quickly because of their accomplishments, there was likely a long and complicated process that helped put them in a position to achieve their goals. 

While it might look like an athlete became famous “overnight,” their success probably took years of dedication and training. The truth is simple: if you’re serious about athletic success, you should be focusing on the process over outcomes.

Outcome Goals vs Process Goals

Okay, so we understand that success requires understanding your future goals. It’s important to remember that there are two different types of goals: outcome goals and process goals. If there’s one straightforward way to summarize the difference between them, it’s this:

  1. Outcome goals are a result that you hope to achieve, while
  2. Process goals are processes you will need to repeat to achieve that result.

If you’re still confused, think of it this way: outcome goals are the result that you hope to achieve, and process goals are the overall repeatable process that you’ll need to undertake to achieve that result.

Outcome goals are goals that may not even be in your control. For example, if your outcome goal is to win a competition, you might be in control of your performance, but you can’t control how your competitors perform.

Let’s say that you’re an entrepreneur who just started a new business. You might have the outcome goal of earning $100,000 in your first year, but it will be difficult since you will have to get the word out about your business. You may begin obsessing over that number and feel discouraged when it looks like you aren’t on track to meet that outcome goal.

With this outcome goal, you might end up tying their emotions to your outcome goal, and feel frustrated when they don’t make a certain amount of money every month. If you instead focus on the process goals of meeting with a certain amount of potential clients every week, it can help you consistently build your business. After time passes, you might find that you are closer to your outcome goal ($100k a year) precisely BECAUSE you focused on the smaller, more manageable process goals.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting an outcome goal, whether you hope to one day participate in the Olympics or make a certain amount of money as an athlete. However, it can also be distracting - and discouraging - to constantly think about the destination without realizing how much work the journey will take.

What Are Process Goals?

We know that some of the most internationally-known athletes focus on their goals to ensure they have the best career possible. For these athletes, it’s not just about setting goals: it’s about setting concrete goals that they can control. These goals are process goals because they are based on particular actions that you can complete.

If outcome goals are a destination, process goals lay out a plan that gets you to that destination. Why is it so important for you to focus on process goals? Here are some of the primary reasons why focusing on the process is a much better idea than focusing on any outcomes:

     + Process goals are extremely specific. Countless people have the obvious outcome goal of “wanting to lose weight”, for example, but it’s more helpful to focus on a particular goal such as losing ten pounds.

     + Process goals are more realistic. Instead of focusing on an outcome goal such as winning an intense competition, a process goal is a goal that is much easier to achieve. This also helps you with self-confidence, since you’ll         feel better once you start working towards that outcome.

     + Process goals can help you build consistent habits that lead to you achieving your outcome goal, and help you excel AFTER you achieve the outcome you wanted.

     + Process goals can also improve morale upon completion, which can help motivate you towards your desired outcome.

     + Since process goals are time-based, it’s easier to understand your progress and hold yourself accountable for your process goal successes (or failures).

     + Progress goals can be more specific and obvious if you are still unsure about your overall outcome goal.

Why All Great Athletes Focus On Process

It can be distracting or satisfying to focus on the outcome, whether you hope to become a professional sports athlete or run a marathon one day. Some of the greatest athletes in history may have changed sports forever, but they all understood the importance of focusing on the process. It’s one of the reasons that “trust the process” has become such a common phrase in the sports world.

Believe it or not, focusing on the process can even improve your emotional well-being. Steve Smith is a clinical and sports psychologist who believes that focusing on outcomes can be unhealthy. Specifically, focusing on the outcome might mean that young athletes end up having an identity crisis of sorts. He points out that to younger athletes, “a bad performance means that [they] are failures and competition is a direct threat to who [they] are.”

In fact, there is scientific evidence that suggests that focusing on the outcome actually ends up having a negative effect on businesses and organizations. This is known as an “outcome bias”, where employees who get lucky end up getting promoted while the organization’s more critical decision-makers often end up overlooked and underappreciated.

At the end of the day, even the greatest athletes face things that are completely out of their control. The reason that they can succeed, time and time again, is because they focus on what they CAN control.

How To Set Process Goals To Improve Your Skills

The beauty of establishing process goals is that they can slowly but surely help you with the larger goal of achieving your dreams. At the same time, outcomes can be intimidating. There’s a good chance that you’ve taken a New Years' resolution only to find that you’re too distracted to worry about them by mid-January. 

Process goals can help you understand exactly what needs to be done, and why. Process goals can also help you prioritize what needs to be done, stay motivated, and see things through. Let’s say that your outcome goal is to achieve a certain GPA at your school or college. If you focus on process goals (such as dedicating time every week to study a certain amount of time), then you can eventually achieve that outcome through hard work and commitment.

What are some actionable steps that can help you establish process goals? Here are ways to make sure that you understand the importance of process goals, how to establish them, and how to hold yourself accountable:

  • Write down concrete process goals that make sense in the short-term future.
  • Establish deadlines so that you have a specific process goal in mind that has to be achieved within a specific amount of time.
  • Identify any possible obstacles to your process goals and figure out how you plan on dealing with them. Possible obstacles might include time management, fear of failure, or low motivation.

Let’s say that your outcome goal is that you want to lose 100 pounds. What are some process goals that might make sense for that particular outcome? Here are some examples of process goals that you may end up

  1. Exercising for 30 minutes at least 5 times per week.
  2. Drinking a certain amount of water on a daily basis.
  3. Undergoing intermittent fasting at least once a day every week.
  4. Eat under 1500 calories every day.
  5. Making a point to walk a certain amount of steps on a daily basis.

Nick Saban is one of the greatest coaches in college football history, and he fully understood the importance of following the process. In fact, he once said:

“It’s the journey that’s important. You can’t worry about end results. It’s about what you control, every minute of every day. You always have to have a winning attitude and discipline, in practices, weight training, conditioning, in the classroom, in everything. It’s a process.”

At the end of the day, everyone’s human. It’s completely natural to think about the outcome and the results that you want to achieve. At the same time, it’s also critical to recognize that focusing on the process will have a much more positive impact on your results than constantly thinking about the outcomes that you desire.

Whether you consciously realize it or not, focusing on process goals helps you focus on things that you can control and quantify, which gives you a better chance at long-term athletic success. When you can focus on the process rather than results, it often means that you’ll end up being more motivated, focused, and productive.

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