When It Comes to New Year’s Resolutions, Should You Choose an Achievement or Process Goal?

We may already be a full 24 hours into the New Year, but there’s still plenty of time to think about New Year’s resolutions for 2017. You’ve probably heard of the “SMART” goal setting method (that is, setting goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely), but this year, try giving a different perspective to your goal setting by considering whether your goals should be achievement or process-oriented.

Not familiar? Let’s break it down using fitness goals as examples.

What is an Achievement Goal?

An achievement goal is something that’s tied to a specific performance; it’s a competence-based goal that can be judged in an evaluative setting. For example, you might want to run a sub-4-hour marathon in 2017, be able to bust out five strict pull-ups or be able to (finally) kick up into a handstand on your own.

Achievement goals are helpful to set because often, they follow the familiar guidelines of the “SMART” goals. You have a specific, measurable goal, so it’s easy to judge your success. Achievement goals can also be incredibly motivating, because you can see yourself progressing towards your goal and push yourself to work a little harder as a result.

Research also shows that if you’re motivated by achievement, you’re likely to be independent, self-sufficient, and you probably even thrive in high-stress situations. Those motivated by high achievement tend to be tenacious, persistent and diligent, thanks to their belief that effort and hard work drive results.

What is a Process Goal?

A process goal, on the other hand, focuses more on the journey towards a long-term goal. For example, if your ultimate goal is to be able to run that sub-4-hour marathon, your process goal for 2017 might be adding one speed work session per week into your running routine. To be able to do a certain number of pull-ups, you might decide to dedicate two workouts a week to strengthening your back and core, whether that’s through Pilates or weight-lifting.

The perks of a process goal? Well, first of all, you don’t get caught up in the numbers you see en route to crushing your goal. That is, you won’t get stressed out if one day your per-mile pace isn’t quite as fast as it was on your long run last week, or if you’ve been regularly hitting three pull-ups but one day can only muster one and a half. You’re focused on the bigger picture, and you’ll avoid getting caught up in the small ups and downs you encounter daily.

Process goals are perfect for you if you’re of the mindset that doing the right activities will help you achieve your goal; plus, process goals are entirely under your control. Using the examples above, you are in complete control of whether you complete a speed work session or whether you complete two core workouts in a week. This focus can reduce any frustration you might have with achievement goals and give you a broader perspective on your goal-setting and achieving.

Finally, process goals can be beneficial because they break down huge, sometimes intimidating goals into smaller, more manageable chunks. Running a sub-4 hour marathon is a great, lofty goal, but you’ll have to break it down into smaller pieces in order to achieve it (like improving your per-mile pace by 30 seconds by June, racing a half marathon in July and nailing your 20-miler in September).


Now that you’re schooled in achievement goals and process goals, which one do you think will be the best fit for your New Year’s resolutions? How will you use these strategies to enhance your resolution-setting? Let us know in the comments!

Goals Think & Feel

About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.