In 1938, arguably the biggest badass in the field of psychology came into this world. If you’re up with your psychology you know that wasn’t Sigmund Freud. Instead it’s a guy who isn’t near as well known, but is responsible for developments that impact your life every single New Year.
Edwin Locke is a pioneer in the field of goal setting. Actually, Edwin Locke is THE pioneer in the field of goal setting. You see, for hundreds of years everyone more or less knew that you should set goals.
That idea extends as far back as Aristotle, but up until the 1960’s it was more or less an intuitive idea. The field of psychology was still new, and nobody had really investigated the effects that goals had on an individual.
Locke came barging in and changed all of that. Through groundbreaking studies Locke proved what everyone more or less knew: setting lofty and specific goals increased an individual’s performance.
It’s safe to say that Locke is single handedly responsible for much of the popularity behind goal setting in our modern world.
While a pioneering psychology badass is always interesting to read about, it doesn’t necessarily tell us a ton about our own goals, and how we can set goals that get us the best results. I’m going to attempt to do just that by discussing two different types of goals: Outcome goals and behavior goals.
Outcome goals focus solely on the outcome. It’s usually a numerical or quantitative goal that someone is striving for. Dropping 10lbs, gaining 15lbs of muscle, squatting 500lbs, etc.
The big issue with outcome goals is that they’re often outside of your control. Now, this could be the control freak in me but I tend to like being in control of things. If I can’t control the situation it freaks me out.
Setting a goal to deadlift 600lbs is an outcome goal that I have. But I’m not in complete control of that goal. What if I get seriously injured? That’s something out of my control that majorly impacts my ability to hit my goal.
Behavior goals focus on the behaviors that generally lead to your goals. Such as sticking to the plan in your training session, eating green vegetables at every meal, or drinking water at every meal.
Behavior goals on the other hand are completely in your control. They’re little things you strive for each and every day. The things you have complete power over.
Here’s where things get really cool.
When you start setting behavior goals, with an outcome goal in the back of your mind, those outcome goals typically come true.
That’s such an intuitive reality that my 16-year-old brother figured it out. No joke. When I asked him which is a more important goal: losing 30lbs or eating vegetables at every meal, his response was:
Someone who eats vegetables at every meal is probably going to lose 30lbs.
If that’s so intuitive, why don’t we do it?
We’re not trained to do set behavior goals. Behavior goals are a bit more ambiguous. It’s more difficult for us to quantify behavior goals, especially when the media consistently beats outcome goals into our skulls with Thor’s hammer.
- “Lose 10lbs FAST”
- “Get a 6 pack in 6 weeks”
You get the point. Outcome goals are everywhere. They’re force-fed down our throat, and they make it damn near impossible to succeed in the long run.
For example, what happens when you hit your outcome goal? You’ve lost that 10lbs or whatever arbitrary goal you had. Then what? What do you do? Usually it’s a celebration that you hit the goal, and then a steady slide back to the life you lived before chasing that goal.
Or what can typically be called yo-yo dieting.
Do I hate all outcome goals?
I actually like setting outcome goals for myself and my clients from time to time. I think it can be valuable to chase a body fat percentage, a specific number on the squat, or whatever works for you.
Those numbers are easy for us to understand. We’re so conditioned for them already that they just make sense.
Here’s the kicker, I like to set one outcome goal and then set a slew of behavior goals to accompany it. The outcome goal sits off in the distance, as something that I’m consistently working for, and the behavior goals serve as little stepping-stones that carry me towards that final destination.
I’ve got a current goal to get below 10% body fat by the end of February. I’m currently at about 14%*. That shouldn’t be too terribly difficult for me, but it will still take some work. Getting below 10% does.
*Before and after pictures to come. I’m a complete jackass and forgot all about taking pictures, until my accountability partner on this, Jason Helmes, reminded me. Some trainer I am.
Outcome goal: Get below 10% body fat.
Now that I’ve got a hard outcome goal that’s sitting off in the distance, I need supporting behavior goals. Since my main goal is to get lean, obviously my behavior goals need to support that.
Getting below 10% take some effort. We’re not hardwired to hang out in a very lean state. Anytime you start getting that lean you start becoming a bit more lethargic, you’re more prone to getting sick, and your lifts start to suffer a bit.
But that’s the price we pay for abs.
So, what will I be doing daily to get below 10%?
- Track my calories and macros (post on this to come)
- Eat leafy greens 2 meals a day
- Do a barbell complex after 1 workout a week
- Do 20 minutes of steady state cardio after 2 workouts a week
To some that may seem like a decent amount of cardio, but I currently lift around 6 days a week, or I’m at least available to lift that often. That means in 50% of my training sessions I’m doing some form of cardio afterwards, but that doesn’t mean I’m forcing myself to do it.
If I’m crunched for time early in the week I know that I can push my cardio back to another day. I’m worried about the weekly view versus the daily view when it comes to cardio. As long as I fit those cardio sessions in, I’ve hit my behavior goals and I’m closer to my outcome goal.
How should you set goals?
I’m a very big fan of setting each kind of goal. I don’t like depending on outcome goals alone, because I think that puts too much emphasis on things like the scale, the barbell, or other objective measurements.
But putting some emphasis on those things isn’t bad either. Instead, set one large outcome goal. Make it good. Make it really fucking good. Then plan out tiny little behavior goals that get you closer to that.
We’ve seen my own personal example when it comes to dropping fat. Take that example and apply it to whatever goal you’ve got.
Edwin Locke probably didn’t bother with the semantics of goal setting. He may have understood the difference, he may not have. But you do, and you now understand why each can be useful, and how to utilize each. So quit reading, set your big goals, and start making shit happen.