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Blog / Goals
11 min read

May 17, 2023

The 3 Types of Goals in Goal Setting: A Comprehensive Guide

Process Goals, Performance Goals and Outcome Goals

Feature image by IrynaKhabliuk via Envato Elements

If you've been looking into goal setting and trying to learn more about how to set and achieve the goals that are important to you, you've probably come across a mention or two about the three types of goals—process goals, performance goals, and outcome goals.

Here’s a quick summary of the meaning behind these three types of goals:

  • Process Goals are the individual steps taken to reach performance goals and ultimately achieve outcome goals. Building habits around process goals, such as running a certain number of miles per week, sets the stage for achievement.
  • Performance Goals measure progress, like losing a specific amount of weight weekly. They're more challenging as outcomes can't be fully controlled, but they bridge the gap between daily habits and final aspirations.
  • Outcome Goals are what you’re trying to achieve, like running a half marathon or losing a target weight before a significant event. These goals are hardest to control due to external factors, but flexibility and persistence can help manage these uncertainties.

Read on for an in-depth explanation of the three types of goals, as well as the basics of goal setting, its benefits, and how goal setting can help you achieve your dreams!

What is goal setting?

When it comes to goal setting, many people mistakenly think it only refers to big and important life goals. Many completely underestimate the value of the little steps we take toward achieving our big dreams, and that each of them can be a goal in itself.

In short, goal setting is the act of planning for the future in an organized way by intentionally setting the individual steps we plan to take to achieve our ultimate goals. These can be personal goals, life goals, work goals, financial goals, spiritual goals, or any other.

Whether your ultimate goal is to finish your Ph.D., get your dream job, start your own business, buy a house, or lose weight, there will be steps you need to take in order to reach that goal. Rather than overlooking them, make each one of those steps a goal, too.

Each of these achievable goals will move you closer to achieving your ultimate goal.

What are the benefits of setting goals?

A study by McGill University and the University of Toronto involving struggling undergraduate students found that an intensive, online, written goal-setting program led to significant improvements in academic performance compared to a control group.

Personal goal setting results in outcomes

Source: Journal of Applied Psychology. 2010, Vol.95, No.2,255-264.

Let's examine how goal setting might do that.

Setting goals offers a number of benefits, many of which are related to motivation. The reason for this is that it creates achievable steps toward the desired result.

Knowing what you are meant to be doing, when you should be doing it, and why helps you to overcome any procrastination or hesitation you might otherwise have felt due to the overwhelming size of the task before you.

Here are some ways in which setting goals will motivate you to complete the steps toward your goal:

  • Focus—you will know exactly what you need to do to reach the next step.
  • Attention—it's easier to avoid getting sidetracked when you know what is expected of you.
  • Persistence—in any endeavor, you will meet with challenges. Having a clear line of sight toward your desired outcome will help you stay on track despite the difficulties.
  • Innovation—you will find ways to overcome the challenges you face, learning new ways to complete tasks. This also leads to better problem-solving abilities in future.
  • Personal growth—everything you learn during your drive towards your goal will help you to grow as a person and become more mature and thoughtful. You will learn new skills and develop new habits that will stand you in good stead.
  • Personal satisfaction—every step you complete toward your long-term goals will make you feel a sense of accomplishment that will further motivate you in the future.

However, none of this will happen if your goals are not realistic and attainable. That's why it's important to know how to set well-defined, clear goals. We call these SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-based

Whether you are setting lifetime goals, major goals, educational goals, or little goals that will only affect your personal life, it's important to be SMART about it.

SMART is the acronym we use to remember the 5 most essential aspects of any well-defined goal. If you want to be successful in achieving your goals, setting SMART goals is the only way to do it. Your goals must be:

  • S - Specific
  • M - Measurable
  • A - Attainable
  • R - Relevant
  • T - Time-based


Don't create goals that are too vague—you'll be able to put them off or ignore them. Be very specific. For example, if you want to run your first half marathon, don't make your goal, "run a half marathon." Rather, create a clear and time-based goal, like, "Run the Two Cities Marathon 13.1-mile on 5 November 2023."


Measurable goals consist of individual, measurable steps toward the finish line. Rather than just having the overall goal of running your first half marathon, you need to have a series of measurable steps in place that lead up to it. Making this goal measurable would look something like this:

"Run 3 times a week, increasing speed and/or distance each week." You would need to include your starting distance and intended speed. However, it is important to be able to reevaluate your goals as you go, if things don't go as planned. This is where the next aspect comes in.


You might start off by setting a goal you think you can achieve, only to find that you can't. That's ok—it doesn't mean you've failed. All it means is that you need to reevaluate your original plan and make it more attainable.

If you set goals that are too difficult to achieve, you'll quickly lose motivation, and your goals will fall by the wayside. Be realistic from the start, and always be willing to make changes.


Setting goals is an excellent way to get where you want in life, but be careful of overdoing it. Make sure the goals you set are relevant to your passions and interests, and that any that you aim to work towards at the same time are compatible. Setting goals that clash with each other can make your life very difficult.


Setting a goal that is time-based or time-bound means setting a deadline for that goal. There can be numerous deadlines for the various steps you'll take toward the overall goal, but there should be one final deadline for when you will complete the goal and move on from it.

For example, if you want to write a novel, you may have weekly deadlines for individual chapters or sections, or you might have a specific word count you want to hit each month, but you should also have a final date when you want the novel to be finished. This date needs to be as realistic and attainable as the goal itself.

Setting your SMART goals is only the first step. Once you know what you want to accomplish, it’s up to you to take the necessary steps to get it done. For example, habit-tracking apps like Conjure can boost you towards achieving your SMART goals by helping you track your behaviors, manage your time, and measure your progress.

Tracking Habits in Conjure

What are the 3 types of goals in goal setting?

So, what are the three types of goals in goal setting, and how can you use them to achieve your dreams?

The three types of goals are process, performance, and outcome goals. It's important to understand the difference between these types of goals so that you can use each of them to your advantage.

Successful goal-setters know that almost any big goal will need all three types of goals to be reached successfully.

1. Process goals

Process goals and performance goals are both necessary for moving yourself toward your outcome goals, but what is the difference between them? Process goals are the individual steps you will take to reach each performance goal on your way to your outcome goal.

If your outcome goal is to run a half marathon in 6 months' time, your performance goal might be to run a total of 20 miles each week, while your process goal might be to run 5 miles every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday for the next 2 months.

You are in complete control of your process goals—it's a matter of completing a small task or group of tasks on a regular basis, and you're the only one who can decide to do them or not. These are the first steps you take towards that ultimate goal that you set yourself.

Check out this TED Talk by Stephen Duneier to see just how effective process goals can be at moving you towards your outcome goals.

2. Performance goals

Performance goals are a way to measure progress. They are the result of—and larger than—the process goals you complete on a daily basis.

As an example, if you are aiming to lose 20lbs (9kg) before your wedding, you might set process goals like eating 1500 calories each day and exercising for at least 20 minutes 4 days a week. Your performance goals, in this instance, could include losing 2 lbs (900g) each week or seeing a specific change in body fat percentage or bone mass each month.

Performance goals are more difficult to control, as there is more chance of things not going exactly as planned. You might lose 1.5 lbs one week and 1.8 the next, putting you behind schedule on your overall weight loss, for example.

You can control your actions, which are directly linked to your process goals, but it is harder to control their outcomes.

3. Outcome goals

Outcome goals are the ultimate goals you are striving to reach by completing the process and performance goals. These are the final result of your hard work. For example, your outcome goal could be to lose 20 lbs before your wedding or to run a half marathon in 6 months' time.

These goals are very difficult to control, as they tend to be subject to challenges and unforeseen circumstances. Sometimes you will need to re-evaluate your outcome goals based on the progress you're making with your process and performance goals.

Tracking goals in Conjure

Track progress toward your goals with Conjure. Sign up for free!

If you find that things aren't going as smoothly as you had hoped and you're not getting the results you had planned to get, you will need to take a good look at your outcome goal and decide whether it is as attainable as you thought.

Consider readjusting your smaller goals. For example, say your outcome goal is to lose 20 lbs before your wedding and the weight isn't coming off as fast as you had hoped.

Since you can't change the date of your wedding to suit the pace of your weight loss, you will need to adjust your process and performance goals to get the results you want. In this case, you could lower your calories more and add in an extra exercise session each week.

The bonus goal type

Fan of goal setting

Gif by Hannah Witton via Giphy

Learning goals

Some goal-setting experts list learning goals as one of the three types of goals in goal setting, alongside process, performance, and outcome goals. As a bonus, we're including it here in the interest of making this a comprehensive guide.

Learning goals are the types of goals we set when we want to learn or master a new skill. They include things like taking courses, learning to use new technologies or software, or finding new ways of doing things.

Learning goals can also tie in with the three types of goals listed above. For example, if your outcome goal is to complete your degree in two years instead of three, your learning goal could be to find out the most efficient way to study to ensure that you are able to complete your degree in less time than the average.

Why Track Goals?

No matter which of the 3 goal types you use, tracking your progress toward your goal keeps you accountable by pushing the goal to the forefront of your mind and providing an important feedback loop.

Seeing incremental progress, no matter how small, towards your goal provides motivation and a sense of success. Conversely, if you see you are not progressing toward your goal, you can course-correct accordingly, either by re-prioritizing the goal, or adjusting it to be more achievable.

Conjure allows you to track progress toward your goals through habit completions, time tracking, or metrics (like calories burned, weight lost or gained, distance run, and more), and get progress notifications along the way.


There are three types of goals we need to consider in any goal-setting scenario. Process, performance, and outcome goals. The three are closely related and should be used in conjunction with one another to ensure your success.

An outcome goal is the ultimate goal you are working towards, a performance goal is a measurable step towards your end goal, and a process goal is one of the baby steps you will take on a regular basis toward your performance and outcome goals.

Always make sure the goals you set are SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based—and be willing to readjust and re-evaluate if things aren't going perfectly according to plan. A deviation from the plan does not mean failure. Only quitting does.

Sign up here for Conjure, the habit tracking platform that will help you achieve your goals, change your habits, and become the person you want to be.

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