If you struggle with retention, or if not enough of your Challenge entrants are getting over the finish line, check if these three levels of goal setting exist and that they are balanced.

  1. Outcome goals
  2. Performance goals
  3. Process goals

 Outcome goals

Outcome goals are often the initial lure for people to train harder, eat better and get fitter.  These are probably what we are most familiar with. Examples are: –

  • Arani wants to compete in the Coast-to-Coast Race NZ and place in top 20 females.
  • Marcus wants to win a 12-week weight loss challenge
  • Peta is aiming to win salesperson of the year

Outcome goals can lose their alluring power for a few key reasons that we as health and fitness professionals can assist with: –

1) People have second thoughts.  At some point it seems like they had too many glasses of wine and agreed to something, which now in the light of day, seems outrageous.  They are completely overwhelmed by all there is to do or how little they know about what to do.  They can’t break the goal down into bite size chunks because they are not even sure what they are looking at.  You may have experienced something similar in areas outside of health and fitness, like when you committed to setting up your own website, writing a book, running an event, building a business, renovating your house etc.

2) The event is too far off in the future.  This can play out in a few ways. First up, people start off with a hiss and roar but grow weary.  This is one of the reasons Challenge designers shoot for periods less than 12 weeks and why school and uni terms are shorter than 12 weeks.  Going beyond that is hard yards and requires more interim feedback loops, and built-in breaks, to have people stay the course.   The other way this plays out is when people put off starting their ‘regime’ or miss days thinking it won’t matter because the event is so far away, and they still have plenty of time.  Before they know it, so much time has disappeared that they feel it’s too late to start, or make up for the lost days.

3) Achieving the outcome goal is outside their control.  Imagine for example that your client wins a cycling race in 48 minutes.  A week later they do another race, on the same course, in the exact same time but now they come 10th! That’s because their placing depends on how the other entrants perform, something that is beyond their control.  Other reasons beyond their control may include a tyre blowing during the race, feeling a bit off on the day, arriving late due to a traffic accident and not get the chance to warmup.  Knowing how things can roll can be demotivational but equally tragically, not achieving an outcome goal without an appreciation of these factors can crush people after an event.

Our ultimate goal is for entrants to feel successful after our Challenges, whether they achieve their outcome goal or not. It’s not that we want to take that outcome goal away from them, it’s more that we need to add to it.  We need to add more goals in, more information, more feedback loops.

Did you achieve your Challenge goals?

Even if you didn’t achieve your original goal, do you still regard yourself as successful?

Performance goals

To keep people on track, motivated, with more goals to chase and celebrate, we need to break those big alluring outcome goals down into performance goals.

Performance goals focus on achieving a certain standard or level. Unlike outcome goals they are independent of how others perform.

They are simple to understand and provide immediate feedback as to whether they have been achieved.

Sometimes performance goals are stacked like these one of Arani’s, meaning once the first is achieved, they can move to focusing on the next one.

  • Arani’s goal is to run 20 km in under 3 hours
  • Run 20 km in under 2.5 hour
  • Run 20 km in 2 hours

Another option is offering a variety of performance goals. In this case Marcus is aiming to….

  • Lose 400 g of bodyfat a week, and
  • Decrease his waist girth measurement by 6 cm in the first month, and
  • Maintain his starting muscle mass for the first month

Sometimes there is just one performance goal.

  • Peta’s goal is to make 5 sales in her first week, and each week thereafter to match or beat her previous week.

When performance goals turn ugly.

  • To beat her previous week’s cycling times Arani only heads out when she knows she will have a tail wind.
  • Marcus decides not to drink any fluids in the 24 hours before his weekly public weigh in, to ensure he reaches his weight loss goal that week.
  • Peta starts holding back closing extra sales, (not putting them through the books), so she can carry them over to the next week when she may need the numbers more to meet that week’s target.

Trying to do ‘better’ each week can quickly become impossible, unhealthy, and demotivating resulting in people ‘cheating’, albeit very innocently, to achieve a goal or which leads them to give up completely, irrespective of whether someone else is watching or not.

Indeed, this where coaches and trainers (you) play a crucial role by helping clients to set realistic and individualised performance goals.  This is where periodization programmes really come to the forefront, helping clients to shift their focus on to the different factors that will result in the achievement of their outcome goal.

The next layer here is being able to show someone why they didn’t hit their performance goal and what they can do about it. This is what keeps them in the game.  Did Arani not reach her running pace because she didn’t have enough sleep over the last week, or she was running on a hillier course, or the hip flexors are tight. Having performance goals is what helps provides us with the information we need, to change tack, before it’s too late, and that process is helped massively if we have broken performance goals down further, into process goals.

Process goals

The image you want to think of here is a pyramid, or a mountain, with one outcome goal at the top of it, several performance goals underneath it and heaps of process goals forming the base, all relating back to that outcome goal.

Process goals are the action steps that are within people’s control.  They provide a ‘to do’ list which allow entrants to experience more ‘wins’, here and now and is highly motivational.

More process goals mean that clients can separate ‘failure’ from themselves.  Our clients can’t say stuff like ‘I’m such a failure’ as they are more able to identify the specific reasons behind their varying performances.

Outcome goal: Marcus wants to win his weight loss challenge

His performance goals are: –

  • Lose 400 g of bodyfat a week
  • Decrease waist girth measurement by 6 cm in first month
  • Maintain muscle mass in first month

Some of his process goals are: –

  • 30 minutes cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week in his ‘zone’
  • Eccentric weights sessions at the gym three times a week for first month
  • Take 30 seconds active micro-breaks every 30 minutes at work
  • Have 150ml of his home-made chocolate milk after his weight training sessions
  • Decrease daily calorie intake by 200 calories via reducing alcohol, sugary drinks, lollies and/or biscuits.

Example 2:

The process goals for the first month for Arani who wants to improve her running times

  • practise a shorter stride length during one run per week, increase cadence
  • stretching hamstrings and hip flexors each night for 10 minutes
  • meet with a podiatrist for a gait assessment
  • do two 20 minute sprint training sessions a week for next 4 weeks
  • doing one slow hill run a week with a weighted pack for strength

Process goals offer immediacy of reward and are within our realm of being able to do.  If you go back and compare that to the outcome goal you will appreciate the vast difference between the two. They are actions, not results, as was the case with performance goals.

Perfecting goals

From a motivational point of view the following additions to process goals help.

  • Clients have input and choice around all levels of goals.
  • Process steps are simple and clear. A client needs to know if they have done them without having to check in with others.
  • Process goals are a perfect way to help conquer both boredom and overwhelm and ooze our expertise. As trainers and coaches, we get to weave into Challenges features into their goals that match not just their fitness levels but also their personality types, learning styles and core drives.
  • Clients will also benefit from being provided with informational feedback which serves to connect the dots for them by regularly relating their action steps back to their performance goal and their outcome goal. So instead of saying something generic like ‘you’re awesome’ it’s more effective to say ‘those shorter strides are helping your form and speed, which will help you meet your performance goal this month, and blitz the Coast-to-Coast next year.

Next stops

  • If you struggle with retention then it may be worth evaluating your programmes with this lens on i.e., do all levels of goals exist balanced in that pyramid style.
  • For an example of how to apply this stuff to Challenges check out the article on Prizes – scroll down to where I talk about giving entrants prizes for their efforts and the Sprint To The Finish Challenge.
  • Read about the 9 core drives that motivate people to complete challenges (and programmes, course, events, training!) in my book.
  • Search these terms in Wikipedia: Self Determination, Cognitive Evaluative Theory, Transtheoretical Theory of Motivation, Process Goals and Neuro-linguistic Programming
  • All goals; outcome, performance and process, need to be SMART too 😊
  • Check out the video below with James Clear – a great one to share with clients.