A new year is upon us, a time when we set goals we say we want to achieve. Saying we want to achieve goals, and achieving them, are two very different things. We need to be able to commit to what we say we want to achieve. Let’s examine three areas that can help us understand how to achieve goals better: attention in the moment, the learning process, and commitment.

First, attention in the moment: End result goals will manifest themselves one day in the future, not today in the present. Focusing on end result goals shifts our attention into the future. Instead, we can identify processes we want to improve. Processes occur in the present. With process goals, our attention isn’t distracted into the future, to an end result we want to achieve; our attention is focused in the moment because that’s where the goal exists. 

Second, the learning process: End result goals can give us vision to direct our actions, but beyond that, they distract our attention. Our desire to achieve them creates expectations of how we think we should progress. These expectations are based on our current knowledge and perspective. We’re looking into the future, thinking we know what we need to learn or how quickly we should learn. This creates frustration when our expectations aren’t met and shifts our focus away from what is occurring in the moment. 

We need to learn something in order to accomplish goals. Each moment holds information that we need to pay attention to. By creating expectations, and getting frustrated, we shift our attention away from that information and slow or totally inhibit the learning process.

By setting process goals we identify processes that occur in the present moment. No expectations are created so we don’t get frustrated. We simply expect to apply the processes to the best of our ability. This approach allows us to stay receptive to information that is being revealed and gives us the opportunity to use that information to learn. We’re not looking into the future, thinking we know what we need to learn; we’re focused in the present, being receptive to what we’re learning. 

Third, commitment: Commitment must immediately follow a decision. Delayed commitment is weak commitment. We can’t commit effectively to end result goals. We can only commit to decisions that allow us to take immediate action. Processes allow us to take immediate action. We can identify end result goals, but we can only commit to processes that move us in the direction of those goals.

We also tend to view end result goals as one big obstacle, which sets us up as victims of all-or-nothing thinking. This diminishes our commitment when we encounter difficulty. We commit to doing nothing because we don’t think we can accomplish it all. Having process goals doesn’t set us up for all-or-nothing thinking. Processes allow us to commit to many small obstacles. This sustains our commitment because each small obstacle is a small amount of difficulty, which is easier for us to work through and achieve. 

We lose effectiveness in achieving goals because our attention is separated from actions we need to take in the moment. We need to shift our approach so our attention is focused on a process goal. Having our attention focused in the present, on the process of learning, helps us commit and act effectively on what we say we’ll do. 

Practice Tip: Setting Process Goals

My process goal is: slow down and be curious. It isn’t enough to just set the process goal. You also need to identify physically and mentally how you’ll apply it. What will I do physically and mentally to demonstrate that I’m slowing down and being curious? 

Physically, I slow down the speed that I walk and maintain a soft-eyes, or open, focus. Mentally, I set a process intention each morning: slow down and be curious. Then, I notice if I’m rushing or getting frustrated, the opposite of slowing down and being curious, and redirect my attention to my intention.

Identify one process goal for yourself. Then, identify what you will do with your body (physical) and with your mind (mental) each day that demonstrates that you’re focused on that process. Remember, to improve your commitment you must be able to focus your attention in the moment on the process goal itself.

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. Bryce Mahoney

    Process goals. I like this concept. Great writing Arno

    1. Arno

      Welcome Bryce. We live in a process world so process goals can help keep our focus in the moment as we move through our day. a

  2. Jesse

    Thanks Arno! This was a wonderful piece of advice to have in my inbox this morning. Using this thought to reflect on my own life for the past weeks or months, here’s what I found: I think that when I become overly focused on results goals over process goals it is often because I have lost trust or confidence in myself and my judgement. Focusing on process goals requires trust that the the process, which I identified, really will work out. So, process goals require trust in oneself. I realize in looking back that the times when I have been most focused on end goals are also the times when I have been least confident in myself.

    1. Arno

      Nice Jesse, It is important to have end goals, but I think we tend to get too fixated on them. Also having process goals gives us balance. Arno

  3. Nicki Manzanares

    My process goal came to me from my son… he said I need to slow down and be mindful of where I am placing my feet. That’s because I keep tripping on things. (Darn near broke my wrist when I tripped on some gear when I was camping). So, to expand that for me, it means to be mindful of my feet while walking, hiking, climbing, etc, even clipping into my bike pedal.

    1. Arno

      wow, that’s a very tangible process goal, and even more valuable coming from your son. “Slowing down and being mindful” as a process needs to create an image in your mind about how you’ll do it. Pausing before action can help as well as looking intently as you place your feet. Enjoy your practice Nicki. a

  4. Greg Leach

    Your piece prompted a recollection of a similar vein of thought that encountered,
    WOOP: Wish/Outcome/Obstacle/Plan.
    It was the topic of an episode of Hidden Brain, Gabriele Oettingen; August 24, 2020.
    The identification of an obstacle was key to converting you toward the anticipated process of realizing your goal or outcome. The language is a bit different but the intentions and observations appear to align and resonate.
    Thank you for your teaching. Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year. Stay mindful. Travel well, Greg.

    1. Arno

      Sounds helpful Greg. Language is a window into the world so it’ll be different than the world itself. But, it gives us a view, though the windows are all a little different. Thanks for sharing. a

  5. NICK KUZERA

    The concept of “process goals” is such a helpful lens to direct motivation into small bits of action that produces engagement and momentum.

    The words “1 process goal” can be found on my work laptop below the monitor as a cue to recenter when the attention is (sometimes frequently) distracted.

    1. Arno

      Hey Nick, what is your “1 process goal”? It’s important to be specific and have a tangible way of applying it. Example, Nicki in earlier comment mentioned process goal of slowing down. Being mindful of pausing before action and engaging her sense of sight by looking at placing feet are tangible ways to follow through on that process goal. a

  6. Heidi Badaracco

    Love this lesson!
    I think this applies to work projects, as well.
    As you say, “We also tend to view end result goals as one big obstacle, which sets us up as victims of all-or-nothing thinking… Having process goals doesn’t set us up for all-or-nothing thinking. Processes allow us to commit to many small obstacles…” I often rush through things, so this will be a good exercise for me – to slow down and be curious – both in my work-outs and in my work!
    -Heidi Badaracco

    1. Arno

      Nice Heidi. Yes, I think we all suffer a bit from rushing. What are we rushing toward? Great question to ponder. Best to you. Been a long time since visiting. a

  7. NICK KUZERA

    It’s more of a “do one thing / process goal at a time” focus. I have a tendency to switch tasks before competing and fully resolving the challenge. I recognize this as the mind seeing busyness and ease instead of sticking with the challenge at hand. In short, it’s an avoidance technique.

    1. Arno

      Hi Nick, Thanks for describing your process goal. Something that can be helpful to understand about process goals that can help is this: You never achieve them. A process goal entails focusing moment to moment, day to day, throughout the year and beyond on constantly improving the process. So, commit to a longer length of time to the process goal so you begin to habituate yourself to it. Then you can add another process goal. Example, a simple process goal to help be more present is EB/OM: expanded body and observant mind. Do EB by physically expanding your body into a full proper posture while breathing and relaxing. Doing this calms your body. Do OM by focusing your attention in your senses of touch (feeling on your skin), hearing, and seeing. Doing this shifts your attention into the external environment and out of your head where it wants to avoid the current task. Another process goal is identifying and taking a small step of action. This can help immensely for the avoidance you’re describing. Does this help? a

  8. Eric

    Happy New Year Arno, nice lesson. I have so many end result goals, I get intimidated when I think of them all. Next time I’ll choose one, and think of a process goal for it that I can work on immediately.

    1. Arno

      There you go Eric. Both type goals are helpful. It’s just we forget to set process ones. Those can benefit our lives every day… a

  9. Arlo

    Hi Arno!

    Prior to Covid, I was a part time climbing coach and instructor at CityRock gym in Colorado Springs until they had to lay off most of the staff. One of my duties was to coach the “Boomers Club” (climbers over 50). Most of them focused on making it to the top of the route, instead of the process of climbing. Their progress improved greatly when I had them concentrate on the process (footwork, breathing, relaxation, having fun, etc.) instead of making it to the top – advice that I learned either from Espresso Lessons or one of your emails like this. I know that process goals work…

    However, one effect that Covid and all the shutdowns has had is on my commitment and focus . I’m good at recognizing when my focus is shifting from the process at hand, but as the shutdown and isolation has continued I’m finding it harder and harder to shift my focus back to where it needs to be – my friends are having similar problems. I have several end goals which I have broken down into process goals, but I find myself jumping from one process goal to the next without completing the one I was working on – similar to what Nick said above.

    1. Arno

      Hey Arlo, Thanks for your post. What you’re describing is common. As stress increases, it becomes harder to keep focus on the current task. Check my reply to Nick’s second comment. The EB/OM and small steps can really help in what you’re describing. a

  10. Raelinn

    Hi Arno,

    I hope all is well with you. I’m finally getting around to catching up on your more recent lessons. This one is a great reminder to break down big goals! You know how I love my pie in the sky goals and my shoot for the moon attitude. Clearly, I don’t always get there. But sometimes I get REALLY FAR (often much farther than if I had set what might be a more “realistic” goal…ALWAYS TRY!) and it’s exciting to experience! But the pandemic has me in the blues and I haven’t’ even been setting goals, not of any kind. I haven’t even really set my intentions if I”m honest. When I do though, I look at is as if I’m reverse-engineering the thing. Break it down into concrete, achievable steps. But knowing this in one’s head and DOING them every day are two very different animals. I like the idea you mention of waking up and “setting a process intention”. I”m adding that to my morning routine! Thank you for all the work you do. I’d be lost without it over all these years.
    Lightness and peace to you.
    R

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