Whether you’re a coach or a client, an athlete or a beginner, or anywhere in between there is a question that seem to leave many confused, unclear, or clueless. In my own practice, I find this question challenging for myself, let alone trying to help others with their aspirations.
“What are your goals?”
If you are one of the many that are not quite sure how to set goals for yourself, I’d like to offer a framework to use in your goal setting process.
Not all goals are created equal.
The right kind of goals will motivate, inspire, and offer a clear path forward. The wrong kind of goals will deflate and demotivate.
The right kind of goals will focus and clearly direct your thinking. The wrong kind of goal will leave you anxious, scattered, and/or wandering aimlessly.
The right kind of goal will inspire you to act – immediately. The wrong kind of goals will leave you feeling demotivated and paralysed.
I offer a quick guide to different types of goals and give some examples of each.
Outcome vs Behaviour Goals
Outcome goals specify what will happen at the end of things – i.e., the outcome.
Behaviour goals specify what actions must be taken to get there – i.e., the processes, actions, steps, and behaviours that must occur in order to progress toward the outcome.
Outcomes are usually out of our control. Behaviour goals are usually fully within our control.
For example, we can’t control our hormones and activity of fat cells. But, we can control what we eat.
Avoid vs Approach Goals
Avoid goals are goals involving something you don’t want – for example, Stop eating chips.” You could also call these “push” goals, because they push you away from something bad and undesirable. Avoid goals usually start with words like “Stop” or “Don’t”.
Approach goals are goals involving something you do want – for example, “prepare more vegetables in delicious yet healthy ways. You could call these “pull” goals, because they pull you towards something good and desirable.
Performance vs. Mastery Goals
Performance goals are goals involving something you do, particularly something that is externally validated. They’re similar to an outcome, but also involve some form of extrinsic (outside-yourself) motivation, such as grades or winning a competition.
Mastery goals are goals that focus on learning and intrinsic (inside-yourself) mastery of process. External validation is irrelevant – you’re focused on the joy of doing the activity itself.
Examples of Each Type of Goal
-I want to lose 5% body fat
-I want to snatch 100kg
-I will commit to exercise 4x/week
-I will commit to technique work twice per week and book a pt session with Cheryl Haworth once every 2 weeks. (shameless plug)
-Don’t eat junk food
-Don’t spend too much money on a night out
-Make yourself a delicious and healthy snack for the day
-Set a budget for yourself in cash and deposit any savings in to a holiday account for yourself
-Win the CrossFit Games
-Get an A on your next exam
-Identify weaknesses and make those your focus in your training
-Set aside an hour a day to review course material leading up to your exam
Which goals do we prefer?
We prefer that you set:
Behaviour goals rather than outcome goals.
Approach goals rather than avoid goals.
Mastery goals rather than performance goals.
These goals have a few common features:
They make you feel “in charge” – autonomous, accountable, and responsible for your own life – while also recognising what you con’t reasonably control.
They help you set realistic expectations.
They emphasise hard work, growth, and the day-to-day progress – value the process.
They break intimidatingly large projects up into smaller, manageable pieces.
They set you up for long-term understanding and inspiration that “sticks” – rather than short-term “quick fixes” that ultimately fail.
They boost – maintain – intrinsic motivation, rather than depending on extrinsic motivation, which is ultimately unsatisfying and can disappear at any moment.
They’re meaningful to you, rather than being about someone else’s judgement, standards, or agenda.
They help clients self-regulate and build self-esteem – you feel good about progressing through a set of significant accomplishments.
What about outcomes?
This may seem a little confusing. After all, there are particular outcomes that you may want.
Outcomes (such as given body fat % or athletic performance in a given competition) are evidence and information, not a goal in and of themselves.
In fact, in a sense, all outcomes are the “right” outcome, because every outcome – desired or undesired – gives you important information about whether your ideas and methods work.
Armed with an understanding the difference between goals types, you are now capable of setting realistic goals that are intrinsic in nature and behaviour based. Go forth and conquer.
By Steven Hightower