How to Set Goals

For years I was a mentor in a teen mentoring program, and at the beginning of every semester we’d set goals. This was one of the hardest meetings of the year – attendance was poor, the kids were unruly, and there was a higher-than-usual level of whining going on.

It was a challenge, because the kids always wanted to set goals like get “straight A’s”, even though most of them were lucky to have a C average. And then as soon as we asked them what they were going to do differently to change the outcome, the conversation got really awkward.

As adults, when it comes to goal-setting, we don’t necessarily make smarter decisions than those teens – somehow when it comes to our ability to accomplish goals, we tend to think we are immune to the laws of time and physics. Wasting time playing party poker video rarely does anything to help accomplish your goals!

But, if you can take the two different types of goals and put them together so they work synergistically, then you have a real shot at accomplishing anything you put your mind to.

The 2 Types of Goals

1. Outcome-Based Goals

Outcome-based goals are things like “I want to lose 10 pounds by 4th of July” or “I want to ship my ebook by the end of the month.”  Your goal is based solely on the outcome you are seeking – but there is nothing about HOW you are going to get there. I love outcome-based goals, and they tend to be the ones we dream about, but they are also trickier to succeed as you don’t have direct control over whether you will achieve it or not.

2. Behavior-Based Goals

Behavior-based goals are the intermediate goals that help us achieve our outcome-based goal. Whether you achieve them or not is based solely on whether you put the time in. For example, if you want to lose 10 pounds by the 4th of July, you probably need to make some changes to your diet, exercise, sleep habits, stress levels, etc. In this case, you might say that you need to do 30 minutes of exercise 5 times per week, sleep at least 7 hours per night, and completely eliminate refined carbs – all goals that you can choose to accomplish or not.

Both types of goals are super-valuable, and I think they pack a powerful one-two punch when used together. You choose an outcome-based goal, and then establish your behavior-based goals that support accomplishing your outcome-based goal.

The S.M.A.R.T Way to Set Goals

Time and time again, I see people fall down on making their goals S.M.A.R.T. But it’s a really sensible model to use – providing a great framework for helping tame that ambition and increase the odds of letting you cross that goal off your bucket list (or even your weekly to-do list).

  • Specific: You need to have a specific goal. For example, I want to complete my ebook by the end of the month.
  • Measurable: How long is that ebook going to be (either word count or pages)? While you may not know specifically how long it will be until you write it, you probably already have a sense of whether it’s a 30-pager or a 100-pager. Setting a measurable number is critical for keeping you on track.
  • Attainable: Is it actually possible to complete your goal in the timeframe specified? If it’s 100 pages and you have 7 days left in the month; that probably isn’t attainable. Look at your calendar and what else is going on in your life and determine what sort of commitment you can make to the goal. Better to revise the target than to miss it.
  • Relevant: Is the goal you are setting actually important to you or your larger goals? There is nothing wrong with pursuing a passion just because, but it’s important to acknowledge that in your goal-setting because right now might not be the time to be pursuing this specific goal.
  • Time-Bound: You need an end date. In the case of our ebook, we have an end date of the end of the month for the outcome-based goal, and our behavior-based goal may be to write 1,500 words per day.

Goal-Setting Leads to Project Management

The funny thing about goal-setting is that it’s really not that much different from project management.

  • In project management, our outcome-based goal is to implement the project successfully.
  • The behavior-based goals are the work back plans.
  • The S.M.A.R.T. component is enforced by the project manager who has to appropriately “load” his or her resources – you can’t be in meetings 6 hours a day and complete two 4-hour deliverables each day.

So the next time you have an audacious goal to chase, put on your project management hat (or hit up your favorite project manager friend) and get them to help you lay out a plan.

How do you set goals? Do you use the two types of goals together?


Popular search terms for this article:

ow ly, Powered by Article Dashboard self help books, Powered by Article Dashboard behaviour, Powered by Article Dashboard way back in, HOW TO SET GOAL

Jen Waak is a health and fitness writer and wellness coach who writes specifically for office athletes on her blog The author of the Keyboard Athletes Guide to Pain Relief & Prevention, she also recently released the free course How to Have the Body You Want (Without Giving Up Your Life). You can sign up for the free course here.


  1. Harry @ GoalsOnTrack on the 21st May


    This is great advice for setting goals the right way. I find setting outcome-based goals work better for main goals or longer term goals, while behavior-based goals are ideal for subgoals or milestones to achieve the main goals.

  2. These are good ideas for setting goals. This is a good way to look at the different categories. Nice article

  3. Jen Waak on the 21st May

    @Harry, thanks! I completely agree with your approach for how you use the outcome vs the behavior based goals. Much like we do project management – pick your target, and then pick the behaviors the support the target.

    @Michael, thank you. I’ve found the categories to be really helpful for clients in terms of making their outcome-based goals realistic.

  4. Dave Neary on the 22nd May


    How do you right the ship when you miss a behavioural goal? For example, if on the 4th day of the month you only write 400 words, do you encourage people to revise the end goal, try to catch up, or just say “what’s done is done, we’ll do 1500 words tomorrow”? I see this all the time – as you miss your daily goals the end goal becomes more & more unrealistic, and attaining the daily goals seems that much harder, and all of a sudden instead of sticking to your exercise regime/diet/writing schedule, it just becomes easier to say “ah, well, that end goal is unrealistic now, it’s a lost cause”, and drop the project altogether.

    Setting goals isn’t a problem, sticking to them when things go slightly off the rails is a big problem. Any advice?


  5. 黃藤毅 on the 22nd May

    It’s good ideas for setting goals.
    We often hear people say, “I need more direction in my life.”
    I think…..Setting personal goals can give your life a sense of direction.
    It’s a technique used by top athletes and successful business people in all fields.
    So….Before you set personal goals,think about what you want to achieve with your life.
    Are they realistic?
    When will you be able to achieve them?

  6. Jen Waak on the 22nd May


    You hit on the million dollar question that plagues everyone.

    For me and my clients it’s context-specific. To use your example of only writing the 400 words, if you only got 400 instead of 1500 because the car broke down and you were two hours late, then that would be a one-off I’d suggest trying to recover from. On the other hand, if the 400 was because you were working until 7pm like you do every night and by the time you got done with dinner it was 9 and then you only had an hour to write until bedtime, then I’d suggest that the behavioral goal might have been too ambitious and we revise it.

    I didn’t write about it in this post, but one of my favorite techniques is outlined by Martha Beck in the 4-Day Win (basically, make the goal too small to fail). I wrote about it here,, and she also has a great book by that same title (it’s actually a diet book, but goal-setting is goal-setting).

  7. 余承憲 on the 23rd May

    Actually I really want to lose my weight.Recent I began to jog 3 times per week for three weeks, but not really useful.After read your article I think it maybe help me to lose my weight more.The first goal is that I should make outcome-based goals to set a measurable number for keeping me on track.And take Behavior-based goal make changes to diet.Wish that follow these ideas I can achieve my goals.

  8. ArunRaj on the 23rd May

    Actually behavior goal matters lot :)..awesome words to work awesome. awesome article.Jen Waak i have to say BIG THANKS TO YOU 🙂

  9. Prisca on the 23rd May


    After read this article,i think “Outcome-Based Goals” and “Behavior-Based Goals” are always show up in my mind,its’s so common.But how to GET goals are the most important part.The writer says “The S.M.A.R.T way to get goals” are specific to let me know how to work on it.Fives details ways about how to get goals really help me a lot,now i know how to get my goals by using those ways.Get goals not a difficult problems to me anymore!


  10. Purple on the 23rd May

    It’s really nice article and these are great idea for setting goals. I usually accomplish the mission before the deadline, so these advice help me a lot. I will take these advice and follow each steps. I believe my life going to have big change and more successful. Thank you very much!! Great job!!

  11. 楊凱捷 on the 24th May

    If you want to make your dream come true, you should set your goals. Find your way to set the goals. I think everyone have different ways to set the goals. But if you dont persisit it, it will never come true. Step by step, be sure every step you have finish it.

  12. 朱育德 on the 25th May

    I think this article is helpful for us. Actually we should plan a good schedule at first, and then to accomplish it when we have something to deal with. So it is important to set a goal for our plan. There provide a good way to solve our problem. We should keep the way to our live and we can get more successful.

  13. Jen Waak on the 28th May

    ArunRaj, thanks, and glad that was helpful to you.

    Prisca, you’re right, it’s about making it SMART where people tend to fall down a lot. Unless you do that, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

    Purple, if you are already following these steps, then I have no doubt big things are in store for you!

  14. jesstine on the 29th May

    Thanks to your article, I’m inspired to be fit. Good Jobs ( thumbs -up ) 🙂

Add a Comment