Forget about results: my new approach to goal setting.

Forget about results: my new approach to goal setting.

In July, I set a midstream goal to pick up 10,000 steps a day (as recorded by this nifty gadget). Over the course of the last six months, it’s completely changed the way I approach goal setting.

That goal worked. Without meaning to, my 10,000 step goal turned me into a runner–and I thought I didn’t like running. (In the past, I’ve even trained for big races with a spreadsheet, sticking to the training plan, marking off the number of miles per day. I completed those plans; I ran those races. But it felt like a slog the whole time.)

This time, I started running because I wanted to get steps. The process was fun: it felt like a game. There have been a few times since July when I’ve timed myself for a mile, or for a 5k–just out of curiosity–and it immediately began to feel like drudgery again. Marking off miles on a spreadsheet is not fun for me, but getting 10,000 steps is.

I had mixed success with my 2013 goals. Why did my midstream 10,000 steps goal work, when so many of my other well-intentioned, intelligent, SMART goals failed? I have a hunch it’s because my 10,000 steps goal focused on the process and completely ignored results

Forget about results

I forgot about results, but that doesn’t mean the results didn’t come. Without even meaning to, I’ve dramatically built up my stamina and endurance. I’m stronger. I’m covering more ground in less time. But those weren’t my goals.

I’ve reviewed all my 2013 goals (including the goals I didn’t tell you about, like easily quantifiable blog stats) and it’s clear the goals that worked didn’t focus on results. Special breakfasts, track the books I read, guest post once a month, complete a Whole 30: they all focus on the process, not the outcome.

(An exception appears to be “learn to use my camera,” except I decided to attack this goal by signing up for an online photography class. If I had to do it all over again, I’d make my goal “complete Shoot Fly Shoot course,” not “learn to shoot in manual mode.”)

In 2014, I’m forgetting about results. My new goals focus on the process (which I can control), not the outcome (which I can’t).

A new tool in my toolbox

How I'm using the commit app to track my 2014 goals | Modern Mrs Darcy

I became a little bit obsessed with finding a way to make my (unmet) pullup goal process-oriented and finding a system to help me track it. I’ve used this system before, with some success, but I wanted to find a tool that was a stronger motivator. After all, I didn’t start caring about 10,000 steps until I had a tool to measure and track it.

(I started off looking for a pullup app, and I downloaded–and quickly deleted–three or four, liking none of them.)

I finally landed on the Commit app, which fits right in with my process-oriented mindset. It’s basically the app version of my home-cooked system that mashed up Gretchen Rubin’s resolutions chart with Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity secret.

This $3 app only does one thing, but it does it well. Every day, it asks me if I’ve completed the tasks I’ve committed to, and tells me how long my successful streak is.

I would love to get a pull-up eventually, but that’s not the goal I’m focusing on. My goal is to do twenty pull-ups (using resistance bands to make them easier) every day.

How I'm using the Commit app to meet my 2014 goals | Modern Mrs Darcy

I’m also using the Commit app to track taking my allergy meds, writing 500 words, turning the lights out at 10pm (ouch!), and a few other things.

I’m two weeks in. We’ll see how it goes.

Have you had success with SMART goals? Do you focus on results or forget about them? I’d love to hear your thoughts on goal-setting successes and failures in comments.

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61 comments

  1. Ana says:

    That’s a great idea–I know fall into the trap of setting too many big goals and getting overwhelmed. But the process is much easier than the final outcome–ie, reading War and Peace is pretty intimidating, but reading 15 minutes every day is something I can actually accomplish, and by doing that the results will follow. I’m actually still working out my 2014 goal list, so this approach will really help!

  2. Maggie says:

    My goodness, now I’m going to take a look at that app. I’ve got a few goals set this year. However, I tried to put away the traditional ones (exercise, cleaning, etc.) and focus one the stuff I find more inspiring like writing everyday. That doesn’t mean I won’t do the traditional stuff anyway, but I wanted to be excited about a new year, and sometimes you gotta shake up your frame of mind.

  3. Heatherly says:

    I love this idea. .. but they don’t have this app for DROID. Anyone know of a similar one for us non-Apple users?

    • Anne says:

      I know I replied below, but I’m duplicating it here: Routinely and Habit Streak. Will uses Habit Streak, and it’s free. 🙂

  4. Rachel says:

    Interesting! I’ve run four half marathons thus far and realized this year that I race to train, I don’t train to race. It’s the process, not the goal, that I enjoy.

    I like that app, but am wondering what options there are for those of us who are intentionally smartphone-less.

  5. Courtney says:

    If you’re interested, do a quick search for Jerry Seinfeld’s “chain” method. The idea is that every day he wrote jokes, he could mark the calendar, and a skipped day made a break in the link. Here’s the best part – he had no intention of using everything he wrote. Some was worth using, some went into the trash.

    Focus on the process and you just might end up with the result you wanted anyway 🙂

  6. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes. This growth stuff is all about habits, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking a great deal about goals, results, and plans for the new year during the last few weeks. Instead of getting lost in the all the tiny details, just showing up is what I’m going for right now. Going to check out this app…

    I’ve enjoyed reading about your progress the last year – what you’ve accomplished and learned to improve your life. Really appreciate the ways you share with us about changing direction or cutting something all together when something’s not working the way you planned. You’re realistic, truthful, and positive during the process. It’s refreshing 🙂

  7. Kelty says:

    Oh wow. Your timing is impeccable, as always. 🙂 I’ve been working on my 2014 goals off and on over the last few weeks and last Friday, it felt like my brain just exploded! It was all too much and just making me feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped and discouraged. I just went to bed and then woke up Saturday morning (everything always looks better in the morning) and thought, “This is ridiculously counterproductive.” So, I came to a similar conclusion, that for now I just needed to focus on the building of habits. Maybe after a little while this will lead to more SMART goal thinking, maybe not. Your post feels like an amen and helps me feel less crazy. Also, thanks for the app tip!

  8. Ana says:

    Yes! Its the process that forms the habit…no matter if the actual stated goal is achieved or not. Thanks for the app recommendation, I am going to download it for a couple of little things I want to add to my daily practice.

  9. Molly says:

    Such a {seemingly} simple little distinction but it sounds like you’ve had great results!
    Thanks for encouragement. Looking forward to focusing on the journey!

  10. ed cyzewski says:

    Ha! I just posted today that goals are nothing without a habit or routine. Great post and great ideas. I may have to give this app a shot with one of my private goals.

    This is why I always recommend The Power of Habit to folks. It’s such a helpful book, and it applies to pretty much everything from writing to prayer to cooking dinner.

  11. Kelly M. says:

    I was thinking I’d have to set a bunch of alarms on my iPod to remind me to follow through on my resolutions (a few which I want to become daily habits, like administering medicine at the same time). I’m going to have to give this ap a try.

  12. I love this! Thank you so much for sharing it! It’s exactly what I have had in mind. I am focusing on some things I want to do everyday and build habits, rather than big project style goals. This is perfect!

  13. Oh, that app sounds like exactly what I need! Except I can’t get iOS 7 on my 4th gen iPod, so I can’t get it. Oh well. I’ll keep it in mind if/when I get a new one.

    I’m a bit too scared of my propensity to fail to even make resolutions this year. Maybe I should rethink that and come up with a daily task rather than a year-long results-based goal. Thanks for making me think!

  14. Rebecca says:

    Definitely a process gal myself! I find I have to figure out a way to make daily goals. ..I don’t tend to do well with weekly or intermittent ones.

  15. Amanda says:

    I have always had much more success with SMART goals. I am definitely an outcomes person and not a process person. By that I mean, I am hugely into systems designed to achieve goals and honing them…I am not as into the process just for the process’s sake. It’s something I have to consciously be aware of and while a part of me wishes it weren’t so, I’m in the camp of needing to measure. Measure, measure, measure 🙂 I’m learning to just embrace that side of me ha!

  16. That’s awesome. I do much better with tracked goals too — something about my gold-star-loving nature, I think. For anyone looking for a similar app that’s free, I’d recommend Lift. It also lets you follow people and give them “props” for doing their daily habits.

  17. Louise says:

    My writing goal (started back in December, got derailed by life, picking it back up now) is to write for 30 minutes a day. No word count, just sit down and write for 30 minutes. I’m finding that works SO much better for me than 2000 words, or a chapter, or anything that is, as you said, result-oriented instead of process-oriented. It’s amazing how much one little mental shift can alter your entire method of going about reaching your goals!

  18. Thanks for that inspiring post! Funnily enough, when you make goals for sport, it is best not to have only outcome goals either (win the championship), but to focus on the process as well! Am going to try that. Don’t know Habit Streak yet and will look it up, but for now I’m using the reminder of Any.do to track both my tasks and commitments. Down side is that it does not show me whether I have done something every day. But I will do that 😉

  19. amber says:

    This is exactly the kind of “goal-setting” that works for me; I’m never motivated by the outcome. And this is exactly the app I’ve been looking for and didn’t know existed! Thank you!!

  20. Jennifer says:

    A really good point! For me, I’m trying to lose a few pounds so maybe instead of focusing on pounds, I should just try to set a goal of tracking my diet through myfitnesspal. I’d be focusing on a concrete step instead of the more abstract goal.

  21. Johanna says:

    I’m going to have to check this app out! I love the idea of forming habits and have always been a huge fan of that. But I also wonder if this not only is a personality but also a stage of life thing.

    Right now, for instance, setting the goal of 10,000 steps a day (the process), would just set me up for failure because with 4 littles (including a 3 week old) so many of my days and nights are completely unpredictable and I’m not “in control.” A goal that I’m working toward, however, I might accomplish better. Just thinking out loud here! Thanks for sharing your process!

  22. Karlyne says:

    What I keep trying to remember is that if the process isn’t fun and worthwhile, the goal just might not be worth pursuing.

  23. Sarah says:

    Okay, I never comment here, but I should! I love your blog! 🙂

    This post is one of my favorites yet. I wrote out goals for 2014 and then realized that they were all focused on the outcome (even outcomes I don’t control!) instead of on my part- the process. THEN I started thinking about how we do this with our kids in our homeschools. Right? Don’t we? I mean, we start out the year thinking we want our children to achieve certain academic goals or whatever- like getting through a certain book or a certain level of curriculum. But I wonder if we focused on our progress instead of on the outcomes… if we said, “do 30 minutes of math every day” or “read for an hour a day” or “choose one scientific topic to research at the library and write a paper on it”- we’d likely meet our goals and surpass them, with better results that we could have imagined by setting goals like “get through the 4th grade math book.”

    Okay, I want to keep going on, but maybe I should just write a blog post about it instead. 🙂 Thank you for your blog! I really like hanging out here.

    • Anne says:

      Eek! Sarah, that means so much coming from you! Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

      I’ve been wondering similar things about my approach to homeschooling my kids and setting goals for them.

      Please, write a post about it! I, for one, would love to read it.

  24. Kelly says:

    Sorry if you answered this already-I tried reading the responses but am running out of time. You mentioned using the app to remind you to take allergy medication and I am trying desperately to remember to take various supplements throughout the day. How is the app helping and how are you making it process oriented? I’ve set reminders before to tell me to go take them, but if it isn’t a convenient time, I don’t do it. What I’ve learned is apparently you have to actually take the supplements to realize any benefit. Merely having them on the kitchen counter isn’t enough! Who knew?

    • Anne says:

      Kelly, I hear you! My behavior would seem to indicate that the magic lies in keeping them in the medicine cabinet. I’m getting better about actually taking them, thankfully!

      I do have the app programmed to remind me at a certain time to take my allergy meds. (That reminder–and its checkbox–are actually a proxy for taking vitamins and supplements, too. The goal is good health, the “process” is the meds.) The box remains unchecked (like in the illustrations above in the post) until I actually take the drugs.

      At any time, I can see how many days in a row I’ve checked that I’ve taken my allergy drugs, so I can see at a glance if I’m usually taking them or if I’m hardly ever actually doing it! (I haven’t missed a day since I started with the app–I want to see that box get checked!)

      But I can see this would be harder if I needed to remember to take supplements multiple times a day. I might enter each time as a different item to complete in the app, if it were me.

      • Kelly says:

        Thanks, I’m glad I’m not the only one hoping for magical osmosis to happen, lol! I’m going to try one of the Adroid apps suggested.

  25. Amanda says:

    Thanks for the great new (at least for me) perspective! I’ll give it a go. Things seem to be easier to do when you’re held accountable in someway or another 🙂

  26. Ami says:

    I’m visiting your page as I work through Money Saving Mom’s Make Over Your Mornings e-Course. I’ve been a little frustrated because I’m at a point in life where my day feels out of my control, and so do my goals. (I can train the children, but I can’t control the wake-up times of the toddler and baby, who share a room. I can eat like a perfectly pure Trim Healthy Mama, but hormones or something are keeping me from losing weight while I breastfeed.) So it is incredibly freeing to hear your focus on the process, not the results. That’s kind of what I’ve been thinking, but it doesn’t really fit with SMART goals. Your statement – “My new goals focus on the process (which I can control), not the outcome (which I can’t).” Is right where I am. So, thank you, I will move forward and keep trying.

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