5 Roles of Process-Oriented Goals: Setting up Infallible Success

This is the 2nd chapter on a series on goal-setting. Here, we examine the 5 roles process-oriented goals play, and how much more reliable and empowering they are compared to result-oriented goals. Read the previous chapter

In a hurry?  Read the digest version.

In the 1st installment of this series, we identified 7 unhealthy motivations for goal-setting. Those result-oriented goals reveal your benefit-centered nature, one ultimately rooted in the belief that you have to produce and accomplish something in order to prove that you are a good person, justified to exist.

Instead of those common yet ultimately unreliable grounds, we need to explore a different set of reasons why we need to set goals in life. As I said before, I am not making an argument saying that one should not set goals, or that goal-setting is completely ineffective and counter to your desire to have a satisfying life. There is a different paradigm, an approach that can secure and enhance our sense of well-being, instead of tying it down to a do-or-fail paradigm.

Let’s explore the better terrain of process-oriented goals.

5 Roles of Process-Oriented Goals

1. Direction

Sometimes we take a walk without identifying destinations. We stroll around the neighborhood, potentially not even paying attention to where we’re going, just to enjoy the experience. There is nothing wrong with this free-spirited approach to life. However, if you are really paying no attention to where you’re going or where you came from, you run the risk of getting lost and you also have no control over where your destination is. You may end up in places and paths you’ve been to already.

Having a goal, or at least a loose idea of your destination, can give you a sense of direction. It assures that while you’re enjoying your path, you are also on the way to somewhere. You are not walking around in circles or getting lost, ending up in neighborhoods that you don’t like.

However, unlike the action-oriented goals, this type of goal is simply a direction to walk toward, not a finish line where you don’t earn points until you reach it. The most important matter here is not whether you reach the goal or how fast you get there. Rather, the emphasis fall more on the progress, and the path. You enjoy every step of getting there. You may even take a scenic route or back track a little. No matter what you do, you know that you are making progress, you are on the way to some destination you intend to pursue. This goal is completely fail-safe. You win by simply being on the road.

2. Effectiveness

The great Stephen Covey says that every outcome is manufactured twice. Once in your mind and once in the reality. It’s actually impossible for any of us to live an intention-free life. Most of our actions have a pre-determined objective, from basic actions like breathing to eating to sleeping to more complex tasks like performing a job duty or earning a degree.

Life is made up of a series of tasks. Life can’t sustain itself without at least some of the tasks being effective. And for some of our tasks to be effective, you need goals.

Let’s say, a boy has a very vague idea that he just wants to live a decent life. The idea of decency gets a bit more refined as he thinks about it, and he says he wants to have enough income to have a big-enough residence, a car that works, and no need to worry where his next meal is going to come from. To this end, he realizes that he better have means to obtain income. To get income, education is a useful tool in the society he lives in. So he goes to schools to become educated.

Notice how larger objectives lead to smaller, more specific ones. But also notice that it’s just one of the many ways to accomplish the larger goal. There is no need to prove or justify anything here. He simply wants to ensure that the larger and more fundamental needs are met, and he picks a reasonable method to accomplish that. But if he sees a different path, one with more effectiveness built-in, then he can change his mind. The goals here are simply indication of effectiveness, how it contributes to the larger goal. It neither binds the boy to a specific method nor renders him as a failure when he drops one way and opts for another.

3. Progress

You are overweight and you decide to lose weight. You set a goal of losing 15 pounds. But instead of keeping your eyes on the number 15, you just focus on the first 1. You celebrate each day you exercise and stay off junk food. You celebrate each pound that comes off. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t hit 15 yet. You are enjoying the progress.

In the previous article, I identified that setting goals as milestones that you must achieve as an unhealthy goal-setting. So what is the difference here?

The difference is that here, your goal to shave off one pound is simply a measuring unit. You just divided your big goal into 15 smaller chunks, simply to identify and celebrate small steps. But they are not, once again, meet-or-fail deadlines. You know that even on the days when you don’t reach a milestone of one more pound off, you still are making progress in an invisible way. You don’t rely on the milestones to validate your efforts. You just use them to recognize progress. Each milestone is still a cause for celebration. But not making one will not threaten the validity of your efforts, either.

4. Articulation

When you’re looking for a new job, it’s a common exercise to write down your ideal job description. Not just the job itself, but the type of company or people you want to work with, office culture and environment, commute situation, and so on.

Why do we do this?

It’s not so that we can kick ourselves when we don’t land the job that matches what you wrote down.

It’s so that we can recognize a good match when we see it.

In many processes, it is helpful, if not downright necessary, to articulate your goals. It ties back to the goal’s role in effectiveness. A sharply defined goal, you can articulate to yourself and to others. It’s easy to understand. It’s clearer to recognize.

Once again, not meeting this goal won’t dub you a dud. It’s just a tool to help you visualize your objectives, sharpen your focus. You are better off with this type of goal, than without.

5. Motivation

In addition to clarifying your objectives, a well-defined process-oriented goal will motivate you to take action. Let’s stay with the above job example. So you have a description of a dream-come-true job. Just looking at your description, you can’t help but be excited. The more you live with your dream job in your head, the more you visualize and imagine what it’s like to have that job, the more energy your goal gives you. You are not expecting your dream job to materialize verbatim. But the view of it is so good that you can’t help but be energized, willing and eager to make steps toward landing such a job.

A process-oriented goal energizes you to take action, to get on the path to that destination. There’s less of a need to work yourself up to it — efforts will not feel like tiresome labor. An action-oriented goal is a burden, a must-achieve. It overwhelms you and contributes to your lethargy and procrastination. Ironic how it creates a force of inaction, when your objective demands action. A goal that is set on the correct ground produces the exact opposite effect. When you have this kind of goal, you can’t help but take actions.

The Main Distinction between Result-Oriented and Process-Oriented Goal-Setting

Looking at these 5 roles, it’s easy to draw out the common themes among them.

Result-oriented goals are mandates. They require your achievements. The focus is on efficiency, rigidity, and measurable results. They set you up in a win-or-lose predicament, where your loathing of the non-success scenarios weighs you down. The last thing you want to do is to enjoy the path — for your time on the path must be as short as possible. To make the path shorter, you look for vulnerabilities in systems and others around you. You becomes self-centered and your achievements lose their satisfying impacts. To fill the void, you strive to produce more results, thinking that the longer the list of your success, more satisfied you’ll be. But it doesn’t work out that way. Every milestone gives you a brief elation, but you immediately have to move on to the next. You work at an increasingly frantic pace, when you’d rather actually get off the rat race and take it slow.

Process-oriented goals are symbols. They are simply markers to identify, direct and measure your efforts. It is a tool to focus your efforts into a singular direction. The focus is not on the destination, but on the path. There is no failure in this scenario, except for complete inaction. Even set backs and detours aren’t perceived as negative. And it will be hard to stay inactive, when your goals provide so many reasons to get going. Pursuing process-oriented goals is always fun, relaxed and flexible.

With result-oriented goals, you either succeed or fail, but even success will not bring you true satisfaction. With process-oriented goals, you don’t have any alternative except for thoroughly satisfying success. Though your goals may end up looking quite similar after the rebuilding, change the paradigm from the end result to the path changes the goals’ impact radically.

Does this entice you to re-evaluate all your goals? I hope so. In the next installment, we’ll look at how to set process-oriented goals.


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    1. Hey Al,

      Yes, I do think Covey laid the foundation for understanding personal effectiveness — which includes being effective at creating a satisfying life. I’ve read my share of books, but few seem to go down deep enough as he does, to get to the root of the issues.

      That said, I haven’t read the rest of his books except the original 7 habits. I should, to see what else he has to say. Most books I skim, as they don’t need the books’ length to make the point they’re trying to make. I like blog better because it tends to have less fat. But the original 7 habits book is a dense one. It’s a classic for a reason, IMO.


    1. Hey Marelisa,

      Thanks for the comment, and welcome to OBV! Yes, I felt that this realization would have a great potential in balancing out your life — for both being productive and fulfilling at the same time. It’s a different way of setting directions, for sure, but it seems more balanced and fail-safe to me.


    1. Shamelle,

      Thanks for the comment, and welcome to OBV! What are your distractions? Tell me more — why are you distracted? And when? When you are doing something you don’t enjoy, or when you are doing something you love?

      I struggle with distractions, too, when I’m doing household chores and stuff. I have a bad habit of letting my mind wander when I’m doing tasks that don’t fully engage me. But yet, any tasks can use all my attention — as any jobs deserve to be done as well as they can be.

      I’ll share more about my current challenges one of these days.


  3. Hi there Ari

    I really like your take on this. For many years I have had goals like “feeling satisfaction in life” and “being able to express my creativity” and so on. I can honestly say I have been achieving these sorts of goals in recent years, and I am feeling very fulfilled as a result.

    When I have had more specific goals such as wanting a particular thing, I use a technique I got from the book ‘Creating Money’, where I try to sense the quality I will get from the thing, and bring that quality into my life right now in some way. This prepares the way for getting the thing, and also allows for something better to come along instead.

    It’s great to see someone questioning the whole goal thing – so many people have goals that come entirely from the ego, and would not make them happy.

    Cheers – Robin

    Robin’s last blog post..This Blogging Life!

    1. Hi Robin!

      Thanks for the comment. I totally agree with what you’re saying about “sense the quality I will get from the thing.” I want to write more on that, as I think there’s another paradigm shift — what you’re after is the state of being that is created from realizing your vision. But that state MAY be created by other outcomes other than the specific one you’re thinking about. Realizing this can make yourself open to other possibilities.

      I have to mull over that concept a bit, as I am not sure if I’m articulating it right — but I think there’s another gem in there somewhere that can free us up from the constricting aspects of conventional approaches to life.


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  7. Hi Ari. I’ve come over from Barbara’s community at http://bloggingwithoutablog.com. Hey, you’ve been elected as the New Blog of the Week. Congrats!

    The measuring units in #3 spoke to me strongly. It gives a person more freedom to adjust their progress. The metaphor of a person running up some stairs came to me. You can take two at a time or slow down for a bit before the next leap.

    Davina’s last blog post..I Dreamt I Died

    1. Hi Davina,

      Welcome to OBV! I just tried to subscribe to your blog, but Google wouldn’t let me — I think it’s a problem with Google Reader and not yours, but you may want to look into it.

      Your stair analogy is quite apt. I think a lot of times we get so set on getting to our goal as fast as possible that we try skipping a few stairs — and sometimes miss the step and fall down. 🙁 If you were enjoying the path, you would have no need to be so hasty.

      I look forward to getting to know you —


    1. Hi Cath,

      Welcome to OBV! That’s what I learned the hard way — and I still catching myself leaning that way often. It’s a slow rescripting process, as much of our society is wired for results — but I think as you said, life is more fulfilling when you enjoy the path.

      Looking forward to getting to know you —


  8. Excellent list, and a few of them sparked some specific comments:

    1. Direction: this type of goal is simply a direction to walk toward, not a finish line where you don’t earn points until you reach it. – I certainly have a direction I want my life to head off it, however, I am not rigid about the path. If I was, I would miss out on so many incredible side trips!

    3. Progress: You don’t rely on the milestones to validate your efforts. You just use them to recognize progress. Each milestone is still a cause for celebration. – oh, I have a perfect example of this as a blogger. We all check our stats. I check my at the end of the day, and I am gratified to see them slowly and steadily climb. However, I feel no need to shout to the world “Hey, look at me! My stats are climbing. That means I am a Someone!” Rather, I yell from where I’m sitting in the kitchen to my partner, the Urbane Lion, in his study “Hey babe, we are on the right track. My stats jumped today, how about yours?” Then he has a look and we both yell ‘Woo-hoo’ and he rushes in and gives me a big kiss, and then we go back to what we love doing, which is story telling.

    4. Articulation: It’s so that we can recognize a good match when we see it. – okay, another Urbane Lion reference coming up. When I first started dating again at the age of 43, my goal was “Must find a man! I cannot be alone.” Well, this started to wear thin, and really wasn’t working. One day, I woke up and said, I would like a man in my life, but I don’t need a man in my life. The man must have the following qualities. And I actually wrote them down. Two weeks later the Urbane Lion came into my life and I recognized him as the One. And seriously, the only thing not on my list is that he doesn’t play a musical instrument. But he sure loves it when I do!

    Urban Panther’s last blog post..Cry me a river

    1. Hi Urban Panther,

      Welcome to OBV! Glad to hear you got so much out of my post. I was really excited when I was writing it, as I felt that if more people could approach life this way, people would be happier and peaceful. Sounds like you’re already there, enjoying life and being on the path.

      I look forward to getting to know you, and your other half —


  9. Hi Ari,

    came over from Barbara’s site and have been enjoying the articles. I remember when I set the goal of dieting and losing 50 pounds and was focused on that as a goal. It was too daunting and for three years I was very unsuccseful at meeting that goal. Then, after several conversations with a coach, I just decided to relax and work on losing three pounds, while trying to live a healthy lifestyle. after three pounds were gone, I tried to lose three more all the time working on my primary goal of living a healthy lifestyle. Within 6 months all fifty pounds were gone but I hadn’t really ever looked at the whole 50. I had just lost 3 pounds, over and over and over. It might not seem to be a big difference but the mental difference for me was huge.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Sandcastle Promises

    1. Hi Wendi

      Welcome to OBV! You know, I do the same thing with goals — I set them and I constantly get overwhelmed by the distance between where I am and where I set my goals. That’s part of the reason why I needed to set myself more process-oriented paradigm. I’ve been happier!

      Looking forward to getting to know you —


    1. Hello Jeff,

      Welcome to OBV, and thanks for your subscription! I checked out your blog — finding like-minded people is definitely one of the pleasures of blogging and broadcasting our voices to the world. I look forward to getting to know you!


    1. Hi Peter,

      Welcome to OBV! Thanks for your kind words.

      I like breaking things down and analyzing, figuring out the underlying patterns and systems. It helps me understand — and from that understanding comes strategy for problem-solving. It’s fun. 🙂


  10. Your commentary on progress is interesting, I guess it stems down to how motivated and passionate you are. For example, regarding blog subscribers I prefer to look at bigger goals such as 500 or 1000 rather than each celebrating each individual subscriber. Of course it takes all the ‘ones’ to make the whole, maybe I just don’t appreciate things as much, or I want to speed up the process 😉

    Another great post Ari


    Glen Allsopp’s last blog post..Taking Control of Your Life

    1. Hey Glen,

      Well, my point was to just to make sure that we all enjoy the process of reaching our goals — whether it’s 500 or 1000. If you are looking at your number each day going “I still have 999 left to go. Today, I have 998 left to go” then the distance between where you are and where you want to be can crush you. But obviously you and I are different — perhaps setting big goals and mandating yourself to achieve them feel invigorating and motivating to you. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not advocating that we shrink our ambitions so that it’s easier to achieve. That’s a cop out. All I’m saying is that if you’re going to go after any goals, picking ones where you know you’re going to have fun while getting there is the key to enjoying life.

      If you’re having fun while running toward 500 or 1000, then all is cool.


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