Outcome vs Process Goals

Have you heard about SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) goals? That’s usually all you hear about this time of year! Of course it’s important for your goals to be SMART, or smart, for that matter!

boutcome vs process

What about outcome vs process goals?

Outcome Goals
Outcome goals are the end result you’re looking for. They’re proverbial marathon, not the sprint! Examples of Outcome goals:

  1. Run a PR at __________ distance
  2. Run a faster 5k
  3. Run without walking breaks

Outcome goals motivate us in a big way. The problem with outcome goals? They are usually things we don’t have total control over. We’ve all trained hard for a particular race or distance only to come up short on race day. That’s why runners say that you never know what race day will hand you. That’s why we try to train for the things we think race day will hand us, but we’ve all had races where unexpected things went wrong that no amount of training could have prepared us for.

Process Goals
This is exactly where process goals come in. These are goals that we can control.

Let’s take the outcome goal of running a particular race without taking walking breaks. The process goals are relatively simple:

  • Start with organized run/walk intervals
  • Gradually begin to increase your run interval and shorten your walk interval
  • Practice running shorter distances with no walk breaks at all when you think you’re ready
  • Gradually begin to increase your runs with no walking until you know you can run the distance without walking
  • Give yourself peace of mind by going further than the race distance (depending on how long it is, there is the law of diminishing returns, so if you’re training for a marathon, running beyond that distance opens you up to injury or illness — although there are those that swear by always running longer than the race distance)

There could be a lot of other process goals in that list: hire a coach; find a training plan that suits your desired outcome; make sure you have a solid base before training for your race; do running drills; strength train; make sure you work in rest days; make sure you leave yourself extra training time in case of injury or illness.

By now you’re probably thinking of some outcome goals for 2021, and what process goals will move you towards that outcome.

I admit I’ve struggled with enjoying the journey sometimes. I love to tick things off a list though! I look forward to exploring outcome goals vs process goals more. — Chocolaterunsjudy

Final Thoughts
We hear all the time that it’s the journey, not the destination. Of course outcomes are fantastic when we achieve them, but they can be oh-so-elusive, too.

There is a lot of satisfaction — and ease of mind! — in ticking off all your process goals. You will know that you did your very best. You will feel proud of every step you took towards your goal. You will feel a sense of accomplishment, whether or not you manage to meet your outcome goal.

ICYMI: I’ve covered Who & What in the Yin Yoga FAQ; now it’s time to explain when you should practice, which you’ll here.  If you have a question, drop it in the comments and I’ll cover it — eventually!

What outcome goals are you working on?

Have you thought about the process goals you need to complete to achieve your outcome goal? 

Or would you rather not think and just run? 


Linking up with Zenaida Arroyo and Kim @ Kookyrunner

This week I am also joining up with the new Runners’ Roundup linkup.


31 thoughts on “Outcome vs Process Goals

  1. This analysis is spot on, Judy!
    For the first time, I have printed out my training plan for my Ultra race and every day I tick the boxes, even the rest day boxes.
    It is so satisfying! I also notice that Kai is more onboard when he sees the plan and knows what’s happening on which day. He does all the training with me!
    Who would have thought that process goals could be so rewarding?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes. I’d rather just run.

    I don’t have monthly goals. As you said, so many variables affect whether you meet your goals or not.

    And during the Pandemic, I find it unrealistic to work toward a goal. But most of her sucked into FOMO. Weekly mileage posts, virtual races, challenges, etc.

    That being said if you stay active, go outside, wear a mask when required, you will be ok.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Love your analysis on this subject! I do set monthly SMART goals, but I also ensure that the goals don’t feel like a chore, if that makes sense? i still want to improve my fitness but also have fun in the process.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great insight 😉 For the time-being, I think I’ll be just running LOL I do have a 10K in early March and a 13.1 in late April, though, so I do need to stay consistent and build my mileage a bit more next month. I just refuse to obsess over it because I know Covid is still very clear and present, and anything could happen (or cancel).

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t have any goals right now; I think some of the other commenters really hit home with the desire to just run and let things unfold. I’m really really enjoying trails right now. Maybe in 2022, I’ll have a goal to do that 50k. For now, I’m having fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. We have SMART goals for both reading and math. We have been doing it for a number of years and I still don’t think we are doing it right. 🙂

    Depending on the race situation I would like to PR is a couple of distances. If not then running at least 1,200 is good for me. Being able to stay healthy and running is even better!

    Thanks for linking up with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I usually do have more specific goals for running. Right now, my goal is stay injury free and focus on pre and post hab to stay that way. Focusing on my nutrition has also helped me tremendously in those 2 areas as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t have a specific goal at this time but I’m trying to focus on strength and flexibility.
    I do like to check things off my list. Process goals definitely help me towards the final goal.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is spot on Judy! I was very outcome-focused until 2020 hit, LOL. I think I then learned to focus on the process more – as you say, things that were in my control. And looking at 2021, there’s a lot more focus on the journey. For instance, I have no idea whether my ultra will happen in March as things are worsening in South Africa (where the race is). But I know I can focus on my training and being the strongest I can be, whether I race or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Training is never wasted! I agree, being strong will serve you whether you get to do your ultra or not. I hope you do, because it’s always disappointing when you don’t get to implement the training.


  10. None of my goals for 2021 are outcome-related (except running a marathon in the fall, but in some ways, that’s part of the process). All my goals are process-related and don’t really have an endpoint.

    Liked by 1 person

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