Use Process Goals To See Greater Progress

When my first child turned one, I felt terrible about my body and my goal was to get back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. Seven years and another child later, I’m still wearing the same postpartum pants, but that doesn’t mean I’m the same person. Would I like to be in my pre-pregnancy jeans? Of course! But I’ve also realized, that’s not really the goal for me anymore.

My goal to get back into my jeans is considered an outcome goal—it’s results-oriented. Focusing on a specific outcome might be a great motivator, but it’s also harder to control. So, despite working with a trainer and nutritionist, I couldn’t get back into my jeans. Outcome goals can also drive you to make unsustainable choices. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires building on healthy habits—a crash diet to lose 20 pounds won’t be healthy or sustainable, but slowly adjusting the meat:vegetable ratio on your plate, adding more exercise, or weaning yourself off sodas will be. These actions are processes that can be achieved through process goals. Process goals give you more control over your efforts and results, so that you can build your confidence and avoid getting frustrated to the point of quitting.

For me, my process goals were to learn:

  • Why I had such a strong sweet tooth at 9:00pm.
  • How to make the few hours I have to exercise effective and fun.

With the guidance of my nutritionist and trainer, a lot of hard work, and my fair share of frustration, this 7-year process has taught me:

  • How to manage my sweet tooth and prevent hangry mommy moments.
  • That the new mom doing exercises that I consider warm-ups will probably drop her baby weight by the next time I see her. I can feel really badly about that (which I did, for a while), but that’s not my body and no amount of frustration will change that.
  • That I’m naturally strong and by leaning into what my body can do, I can outperform someone half my age in push-ups and squats.
I used to hate lifting weights, but my trainer taught me how to get in, push myself, and get out. Now, I can tolerate it. It hasn’t always been fun, but I needed to experience this process to achieve the results that keep me coming back. I may not fit in my old jeans, but my legs are more muscular than when I was riding a bike 8-10 hours/week. I’m also faster and more agile than ever.

Today, my cholesterol levels dictate whether I need to lose the baby weight—not my vanity. Is that success? It is for me. I don’t feel bad about my body any more. I’ve also learned a lot, and I know I’m doing everything I can to get healthy at this point in my life. All I can do is commit to the process, see what happens, and adjust when life inevitably changes again. So my goals now are to manage my sweet tooth, get to bed earlier, hit the gym three times a week to work off stress and pump up my endorphins, and constantly look for more opportunity to get healthy.

If you’re not where you’d like to be with your goals, assess whether you’re focused on the outcome or the process. If you’re just worried about results, try aiming for processes that will support the outcome. And when you set those process goals, remember to make them S.M.A.R.T.

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