While planning my book on goal setting and achievement, it occurred to me that there appears to be more than one type of goal. I am not the first to discover this, as is evident by the plethora of articles on the subject, but thinking about it, it appears that the type of goal you set for yourself will go a long way to determining how best to approach it.

If you google types of goals, you will be bombarded with links to articles that maintain there are anywhere between two and 41 types of goals. However, when looking at some of the more prominent articles on this topic, you will see that many of these “types” are merely a single variety viewed through different lenses.

Stepping back, I concluded that it was best to take a simplified approach to the topic. As a result, it seems obvious that the principal difference between the types of goals relates to how the goals are achieved. Most people assume, as I did, that when you reach your goal, you have finished with it.

Type of Goal Perspectives

In my research, one article I found that is worth mentioning is from kennethmd.com. It suggests that there are in fact three types of goals; outcome goals, process goals, and performance goals.

According to the author of the abovementioned article, an outcome goal is a specific result that you are trying to achieve, such as saving $10,000 or losing 25kg.

A process goal involves the goal setter changing their behavior to achieve a certain result. The example they give is “…(t)he process goal for losing weight may include reducing calories, riding your bicycle, and drinking lots of water…”.

The final goal type is the performance goal, which is where a particular standard is applied to the achievement of the process goal. In other words, a minimum result is required from the effort invested to consider the goal achievement successful.

The abovementioned distinction is similar to what I came up with, but more about that below.

I was also interested in what James Clear (author of “Atomic Habits“) had to say about changing the conversation from setting and achieving goals to establishing habits that achieve the results you desire. This position is similar to the process goal mentioned above. While I agree that Mr. Clear’s point is valid (and insightful) I came to the conclusion that not all goals are suited to his approach. Some goals, especially those that result in the attempt to achieve something which can be clearly defined (as in the outcome goal mentioned above), do not suit a systemized approach, as Mr. Clear would suggest.

While making behavioral changes would suit goals such as losing weight, getting fit or increasing your performance at work, it is not well suited to goals with a clear endpoint, such as earning a qualification, writing a book or saving a set amount of money for a particular purpose.

So, How Many Types of Goals ARE There?

After spending a fair amount of time researching this topic, my conclusion is that there are fundamentally two types of goals: those that rely on a clearly defined result being achieved (usually by a specified deadline) and those that require the changing of behavior with or without a specified deadline.

My first goal type aligns with the outcome goal mentioned by the author on kennethmd.com.

My second goal type aligns with their process goal (into which I would incorporate their performance goal as it seems to be a sub-category thereof) as well as having some similarities with James Clear’s habit-based goal alternative.

According to the author of the article on kenethmd.com, the main differentiator between their types of goals is how much control a goal setter can exert over their goal. As already stated, I disagree with this position and opt rather for the differentiator being far more fundamental in nature; the manner in which the goal is approached and completed.

As hard as I tried, I struggled to find a suitable approach that would encompass both of these types of goals. It appears that they are therefore inherently incompatible.

This incongruity led me to assume that there are indeed two broad types of goals. Depending on the situation, these can be broken down into other sub-categories.

Below is an excerpt from my book about effective goal achievement titles the “Plan, Achieve, Thrive: Successfully Achieve Your Goals With The GREATER2 Goal Achievement System” in which I discuss the two types of goals that I settled on.

The Two Types of Goals

You may think that a goal is just a goal. If you think about it, this is not the case, however. Goals can be classified in two ways: bounded or transitional goal.

bounded type of goal

A bounded goal is one where the goal represents the achievement itself. For example, a goal like earning a degree or writing a book is a bounded goal. If the goal setter earns their degree or finish writing their book, their goal is achieved. The process is complete. Obviously, this does not preclude setting a new, similar goal to earn another qualification or write another book, but that would be a separate process.

transitional type of goal

A transitional goal, on the other hand, is not the end of the process, but rather a waypoint on a potentially open-ended path towards self-improvement. Unlike bounded goals, transitional goals need never end. They usually involve self-improvement, accumulative or transformative efforts like losing weight, getting fit, saving or earning money or learning a new language. For example, a person who sets the goal of attaining their desired weight need not stop losing weight or striving to be healthy simply because they have reached their goal. The routines they have established and their new, healthy eating habits could be maintained far beyond the deadline set for the goal itself.

Transitional goals can also be subdivided into goals that are constructive (in other words those that develop, grow or enhance a person or object) and ones that terminate (goals that stop bad habits). I call the latter termination goals.

Most transitional goals are constructive goals, but many people who struggle with addiction will use termination goals to stop their bad behavior.

Why is the type of goal important?

The type of goal you want to achieve can make a difference in the way you approach it and the techniques you use to achieve it.

The intention to achieve a transitional goal places far more emphasis on establishing a viable, long-term routine than would be required to attain a bounded goal. Achieving a transitional termination goal would require setting up a replacement trigger for the negative behavior a goal setter is trying to stop.

A bounded goal, on the other hand, requires the completion of a set of tasks, and once that is achieved, the goal is complete.

Knowing the type of goal you are trying to achieve allows you to direct your focus and energy where it is most effective.

Conclusion

This topic may seem arbitrary, but I believe that making a simple distinction between two fundamental classes of goal will help you identify what needs to be done to achieve your goal, especially with regard to where your focus needs to be when starting out on your goal path.

If you are interested in setting and achieving goals effectively, why not consider buying the “GREATER2 Goal Achievement System” book on gumroad.com?

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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