What’s the best way to set goals? It varies from person to person. But I think there are three basic types of goals we can set: Input Goals, Output Goals, and Outcome Goals.
Input Goals are about the work you put in (either time or effort).
* Sit at your writing desk for 2 hours every morning
* Spend 10 hours on the YouTube channel each week
* Give 100% in every gym session
You might not write a single sentence, or make any progress on a project . But you still showed up. Input Goal achieved.
Output goals are about measurable results.
Write 2,000 words each day
Film 1 YouTube video per week
10,000+ step-count each day
What tasks can you complete (probably on a regular basis) that’ll get you closer to your long-term aims?
These are the final outcomes that we actually want.
Reach the NY Times Bestseller list
Hit 500k views on my next YouTube video
Get 6-pack abs
I don’t really care about writing 2,000 words a day; what I really want is to write a good book. Being honest about your Outcome Goals can be a bit daunting.
Notice that there’s a spectrum of control here. Input Goals give you total control over success or failure (so long as you set realistic time limits). You just need to show up. Output Goals can be trickier to consistently achieve, especially with creative work. And Outcome Goals are often long shots that you can only slightly influence.
Let’s say I want to learn Chinese. Is it in my control whether or not I spend 20 minutes practicing Mandarin each day (Input Goal)? Hell yes. Barring any major life complications, I’m in control of whether I can spend 20 minutes a day on this thing. What about going through 100 Mandarin Anki flashcards every day (Output Goal)? That’s still in my control, but not as much. Some flashcards might be harder than I anticipated, and I could run out of time to finish the full 100, even with 100% effort. And is winning Language Learner of the Year (Outcome Goal) in my control? Broadly speaking, no. There’s a lot I can do to influence that outcome, but a big chunk of it is outside my control.
So what type of goal should you choose?
I think it depends on your motivation levels. Are you stuck on autopilot? Do things seem too easy or repetitive right now? In that case, try challenging yourself with some ambitious Output Goals (lift heavier weights, film more videos) or Outcome Goals (6-pack abs, hitting 200k YouTube subscribers). Giving yourself an exciting project that’s a bit out of your control might get you fired up again. On the flip side, maybe you’re getting discouraged by an ambitious Outcome Goal.
If you’re always thinking ‘damn, how can I ever write a whole book/get six pack abs/hit 200k subs?’, it’s easy to start procrastinating. In that case, try moving towards the ‘control’ end of the goals spectrum – set yourself some simple Input Goals. When reporters ask top tennis players ‘how did you keep your nerve at that key point in the match?’, the players always say the same thing: ‘I just focused on playing the next point at 100% of my ability’.
Sometimes it’s just about putting one foot in front of the other.