Outcome Versus Effort Goals

Jul. 23rd, 2018

I’m not alone in struggling with the concept of and baggage around goals. I honestly cannot remember if I’ve ever actually met a goal, even a SMART goal, that I’ve set, at the time I aimed for. This is frustrating and honestly turns me off the entire concept. At least in terms of the “T” part of SMART, where you assign the time-table to attach to the goals.

I do feel it is important to identify and remain aware of whatever end result we are working toward. Putting in effort without knowing why is a major inhibitor to motivation. And there are many words that can be substituted for “goal”. “Quest”, “aim”, or “project” could all work. Whatever we are calling this, I have noticed that they usually fall into one of two categories. And I find myself able to work on one of those much easier than the other.

Outcome vs. effort

Here are two example goals.

“Lose 40 lbs in a year.”

“Read 6 books in a year.”

There are many similarities between them and it’s worth noting that neither of them have been given the SMART goal treatment, but one of them centres around an outcome and one of them centres around effort.

Losing weight involves effort because it means changing something, probably multiple things including behaviour, thinking, beliefs, grocery shopping, etc. One of the most fundamental things about health and weight loss is how no two people’s bodies will react the same to nearly anything. This means that the effort involved will vary greatly, person to person. So the goal “Lose 40 lbs in a year.” will have different details depending on who is setting this goal.

Furthermore, while there are an almost infinite amount of things that can be done in an attempt to lose weight, the actual loss of weight isn’t in our direct control, the way reading is. If I want to read, I can pick up a book and read. If I want to lose weight, no matter how much I might want to, I cannot make the same strides toward that goal in the same ways as I can with reading. If the deadline for reading books begins to approach, theoretically I could cram in reading time to get it done. But short of dangerously starving oneself, it is unlikely that 40 lbs can be lost in as short a period of time.

This is why, when I do set out aims for myself, I make them effort goals. Go for a 1 hour walk every morning, read for 15 minutes a day, do laundry once a week on Tuesdays, go to bed at 10PM each night. These are all things I am able to take direct action on, in the moment, so to speak. I feel so much better because it doesn’t seem like the goal is a matter of chance. I know I can walk, read, do laundry, and go to bed. The timing is more challenging, but they are hands-on and specific things.

Which category do your goals fall under?