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Goal vs Process Orientation

If you’ve ever created a resume, I’m sure you’ve heard something along the lines of “make sure you put ‘goal oriented’ somewhere in there. Employers like that.” If you’ve ever owned a business, you understand the idea of being goal oriented better than most, since without goals you wouldn’t have started the business in the first place, you can’t make quarterly or yearly projections, and your business doesn’t grow.

Yet, being goal oriented isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that while being goal oriented is good in the short run, in the long run it is most certainly detrimental to anyone who goes by that mindset exclusively.

Let’s put this to the test:  have you ever met people who at a young age achieved something big in their lives, only to live the rest of their lives in the shadows of that accomplishment? These people are always spinning their wheels trying to somehow recapture that former glory: they talk about their past successes and do everything they can to get back to that point in their lives. Yet, their quest is ultimately futile, because they are so focused on the goal that they forget (or ignore) how it was they attained the goal in the first place.

Now, compare that person to the most successful people you know, in any field. I would venture to guess they are focused on the process of success. While interested in attaining goals — not a one of them will tell you goals are not important — they attain those goals by employing a process of continual growth and improvement, and that the goals eventualities.

While being goal oriented is good to an extent — everyone reading this should have goals and be working some sort of plan to attain them — most people fall into the first group, those who focus primarily on being goal oriented and as such end up missing the elephant in the room: the process. Goal oriented people are people who strive and fight and move for the sake of attaining a goal. Likewise, process oriented people are folks who strive and fight and move because they’re looking to improve. Both of these people will achieve their goals, but unlike process oriented people, goal oriented people run the risk of getting to a goal and then sitting there, happily resting on their laurels. These folks can sometimes go the rest of their lives without realizing that while they may be achieving the goals they’re setting, they aren’t growing: by not focusing on the process, the goals they’re setting are a result of immediate necessity, and aren’t building anything up. These goals aren’t pushing them or making them grow.

So, what’s so important about goals? Simply put, without a goal there is no process. To impress upon you the importance of that statement, I’ll say it again: Without a goal, there is no process. Once a goal is set, however, once you know where you’re going, you have to pay close attention to how you’re getting there. Look at your goals regularly to make sure you’re on the right path, but pay close attention to improving your process while you get there.

Unlike those who are goal oriented, process oriented people will work towards their goal in such a way that in the process of attaining their goals, they stretch themselves and learn. These people will learn from their mistakes and will work not just to achieve a goal, but to ensure that when they achieve that goal they are better than they were before they started for that goal.

For goal-oriented people growth is sometimes incidental: they grow only because their goal requires them to. Process-oriented people, on the other hand, attain goals because their process will take them in that direction anyway. For them, growth is not incidental, it is necessary, and goals are eventual. Because of this difference, the goal-oriented person will not necessarily be able to look past the goal to the next goal until they get there. The process-oriented person will instead already be thinking about future goals, since everything they do is focused to the process of improving: goals just give them a direction in which to move. To the goal oriented person, goals are end points. To the process-oriented person, they’re simply mile markers.

Now, why did I start thinking about this? As a collegiate soccer coach I meet a lot of goal-oriented people.  I meet youth coaches who's only focus on winning. Usually this focus is to the detriment to the players.  The coach puts the best players on the field in the most important positions so the game is easy to win. But in this situation the players never learn how to deal with adversity. The players I meet from these teams usually cannot solve their own problems. When they reach the collegiate level and the competition increases they are unable to think for themselves. These players have no foundation to work off of.  They have never improved, only reached goals.  When speaking with them they will often refer to their stats or personal accomplishments above any team accomplishments. Process-oriented players will have a strong foundation for long-term success both on and off the field. 

So, the question is now with you. Look at your own life. Are there areas in which you are process oriented versus goal oriented (and vice versa)? In what areas could you make the shift from goal oriented to process oriented? How would this help you out? Remember: it’s never too late to start improving.

Ever hear the phrase “success is a journey, not a destination”? That’s because success is in the process. The greatest measure of personal success is not what one gets from it, but rather what one becomes through it.

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