T Nation

Setting Outcome Goals vs Process Goals

In the past, I’ve always set outcome-based goals for areas of my life, including health/fitness related, but looking back, it doesn’t appear to have much of an impact. This year I started focusing on process-based goals and have had more physical improvements this year than previous years (was active 2013-2017, slacked off 2018-2020, and re-started March 2021).

Some examples of outcome based goals:

  • increase lean body mass by 10 lbs
  • increase strength (bench → 225 lbs, deadlift → 350 lbs, press → 150 lbs)
  • improve 5k to 21 minutes

Some examples of process-based goals:

  • Complete 3-4 hard effort strength training (progressive overload) and/or conditioning (effort and elevated heart rate) workouts per week
  • Run 500 total training miles for the year
  • Complete the following programs for 5-12 week training cycles (tbd, but looking into 10000 kb swing challenge, bodybuilding split, and building the monolith)

Considering that of the outcome goals stated above, none of them are actually controllable (muscle builds at its own natural rate, strength increase not always linear), is it even worth writing them out at all? I may not even bother listing outcome goals this year.

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@ejones1 comes to mind anytime someone says “goals”

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yes. you still get to look back in your journal and check it off, because you accomplished it.

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Thanks. I’ll keep them saved so that I can reference them later while focusing my day-to-day on the process. I’ve seen good ideas in your log with the monthly goal setting.

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depends on the person. For me, absolutely. And it doesn’t really have anything to do with whether or not I actually achieve them, necessarily. Sometimes I’ve far exceeded written, tangible goals, other times I’ve come up short. But for ME, it’s important to have concrete numbers to chase, because it helps my drive. Drive, at the end of the day, is really what most people lack when it comes to the gym. If I want to press 300 overhead, and I’m currently pressing 250, it means I’d better hit the gym consistently. Whereas, at least for me, if I’m pressing 250 and I DON’T have a number I’m chasing, or even just trying to maintain, I’m more likely to skip sessions and feel like things are ‘good enough’. Not everyone works like this, it’s very individual. If the process-based goals are more effective at getting you to train hard and consistently, that’s great! My own goals are a mix of both, which it sounds like is where you’re at too. For me, they generally fall into things like ‘win X strongman show, qualify for X show, hit X reps/weight on Y lift’ for outcome based goals, and then my process goals are basically… show up at the gym 3-4 times a week, and eat enough. lol.

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I agree with your point on drive. I realized before that I was setting goals for things I honestly did not care for but felt obligated to have a goal for. I’m going to keep outcome goals listed in my evernote to help set the direction and details for the “processes/methods” I need to be doing on a daily basis. I have a couple of strength goals for deadlift and OHP, and have some run goals.

For increasing lean body mass, I think I’m going to keep that a little more vague. This is because the methods of measurement I have available (bioempedance scale, caliper) are imprecise and prone to error. And I also recently had blood work done, and free testosterone was 8.4 pg/mL, which is apparently below the reference interval of 8.7-25.1. I’m not going to make any assumptions on how much lean mass I can gain. I’ll just keep up with effort and consistency, and any improvement will be a success.