When you read or learn about goals, you often hear terms such as SMART goals, action steps, outcomes, results, milestones, and achievement. People set goals for their careers, finances, relationships, health, and lives. Their objectives may be to take on a leadership position in their company, launch a business, save $10,000, lose five pounds or find their soul mate.
But these are outcome-based goals. They are measured by the result. If you set a goal to put aside $10,000 in your bank account, what would happen if you ended up with only $9,000? Would you say that you reached your goal?
If you set outcome-based goals all the time, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You don’t have much control over results. You could be the best employee at your company, but you might not get the position of CFO until the current CFO moves on. You could do everything that your doctor suggests to lose five pounds, but your metabolism might not be on the same page.
Setting results-based goals are helpful because you challenge yourself and set a marker to work toward. But you should also be setting behavioral goals to help you achieve those milestones.
What Are Behavioral Goals?
Behavioral goals are the actions that you want to take in your life. We could say that they are activities that you can perform to get closer to a particular outcome.
However, behavioral goals don’t have to be tied to a result. They can simply be the way that you want to show up in life.
How Values Influence Behavioral Goals
We all have certain values that drive our behavior. Personal core values help you align the choices that you make in life. If you can’t define your core values, you may not know how to behave at any given time.
You generate your values through experience. Your values also reflect your culture and upbringing. Because people are raised in communities, they often have similar core values. According to James Clear, some of the most common core values are:
This is not an exhaustive list. Even though core values may be similar among individuals, everyone has different priorities. Whether you recognize your core values or not, they drive your behavior.
In fact, researchers have found that knowing someone’s core values can help doctors predict that individual’s behavior when it comes to making healthy choices. That’s because values are abstract goals that people set for themselves.
If you set goals, you’re more likely to take on the behaviors that help you accomplish them. Your values are a type of goal that drives behavior at a subconscious level.
How to Identify Your Core Values
Therefore, before we can talk about behavioral goals, we should discuss your values in more depth. Although you are conditioned with certain beliefs, your values can be a choice. It’s up to you to become aware of the patterns that have been instilled in you from your parents, teachers, caregivers, and society and decide whether you want to accept those values or not.
Here are some steps for identifying your core values:
1. Choose From a List
There are many lists online and in books that catalog the main core values that people might have. Scott Jeffrey offers about 200 options in his. You can also take a life values inventory that can help you narrow down your ideals.
You may want to peruse one of these lists and decide which values stand out for you. They don’t have to be set in stone; some of your values may change in priority depending on the circumstances.
For example, you may prize patience unless you’re in a dangerous situation. In that case, urgency becomes necessary for survival. Financial security could be high on your list of values. But once you’ve saved up a certain amount of money, security becomes more of a background value, and others take its place.
Try to browse a list and select 10 to 20 values that are most important to you. This task may be easy for some people and challenging for others.
You probably value almost every concept on the list. Doing this exercise can help you get honest with yourself and really prioritize your standards.
2. Look at the People You Love
If you’re having trouble with the exercise above, we have some more steps to help you narrow down your beliefs. Start by thinking about the six people who you admire most. They can be living or dead. You may know them, or they might be historical heroes.
What do you love about them? You may love your grandfather because he is always honest and fair. Perhaps you love that your husband is loyal and supportive. You love that your kids always want to get the most enjoyment out of life.
Once you’ve written down these identifiers, you’ll have a better understanding of the values that are important to you. Take a moment to consider whether you also personify those values. If not, do you want to adopt some of them as your own?
3. Look at Your Life
Think back to the happiest experiences of your life. What made them so incredible?
If you look at having children as the pinnacle of your life, perhaps nurturing others is one of your top values. Maybe the best experience was the road trip that you took across Canada. In that case, freedom or adventure may be priorities.
Now, reflect on some of the biggest disappointments of your life. If you weren’t chosen for the lead role in the play, perhaps recognition or fame are big values for you. If a close friend hurt your feelings, maybe compassion is important.
How to Set Behavioral Goals Based on Your Core Values
Knowing yourself and understanding your values helps you make decisions. You can set goals, but if you base them on outcomes, you may not reach them. You can always choose to act according to your values.
Living by your values can reduce stress, improve your confidence and make you more satisfied. That’s where behavioral goals come in. When you set goals to act in a way that aligns with your values, you can improve your life.
Whenever you set goals, ask yourself whether they excite you. If they don’t, they’re probably based on someone else’s expectations of you. They may not line up with your beliefs.
If that’s the case, then you may have a hard time accomplishing those goals. Therefore, the first step in goal setting is to determine whether those goals light you up.
If they do, you can probably tie them to your values fairly easily. However, sometimes it’s necessary to establish behavioral goals based on someone else’s values. This is particularly significant in the workplace, where you’re expected to act in a way that supports the company’s values. When that happens, try to find the link between the goal and a personal value.
Perhaps you hate cold-calling people because you feel as though you’re violating their time and privacy. However, your company requires you to make a certain number of calls per day.
If you’re not excited about your goal to call 50 new people, you could change the behavior to reflect your values. Maybe you place a lot of importance on learning. Therefore, you could adjust the goal to be, “Teach 50 new people about how my company’s services could help them” instead of “Make 50 outbound phone calls.”
The result will be the same, but your behavior will be driven by passion instead of obligation.
Should You Set Approach or Avoidance Goals?
There are generally two types of behaviors that drive your goals. You can seek to get closer to things that you want or avoid things that you don’t want.
You set approach goals when you want to produce a positive outcome. Some examples of approach goals include:
- Going to the gym to optimize your health and fitness
- Cleaning your house because you love the way that it sparkles
- Scooping the cat’s litter box to provide it with a clean environment
- Making more money to achieve financial freedom
- Working hard in school so that you can be proud of yourself
Approach goals should get you excited. They should make you feel happy.
When you frame your goals in a positive way, you tend to:
- Be more satisfied with your progress
- Improve your self-esteem
- Feel more confident in pursuing your goals
You set avoidance goals when you try to dodge a negative outcome. Some examples of avoidance goals include:
- Going to the gym to avoid cardiovascular disease
- Vacuum the house to avoid your mother-in-law criticizing you
- Cleaning the cat’s litter box so that your house doesn’t smell bad
- Making more money to avoid being in debt
- Getting good grades to avoid disappointing your parents
Setting avoidance goals may cause you to procrastinate. For example, if you clean the house to avoid someone’s disapproval, you may not clean unless that person is coming over.
When you set avoidance goals, you:
- May feel less satisfied with the results
- Might have more anxiety surrounding your goals
- May not perform as well as you could have
Avoidance goals aren’t necessarily bad. However, they generally produce more stress than approach goals. That’s because they’re linked with negative emotions.
For example, if you want to lose weight to avoid looking fat, then you’re focusing on how you feel when you look fat every time you think about the goal. On the other hand, if you want to lose weight to look spectacular in your clothes, then you may feel a sense of pride when you think about yourself in your favorite outfit.
Still, avoidance goals can be motivating. Many people wait to take action until they’re under pressure. That anxiety can push you to get the job done. Some people enjoy working in the face of that kind of stress.
However, for most people, high levels of stress can be debilitating. They can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Too much stress can be paralyzing instead of inspiring.
The behavior that comes from an avoidance goal vs. an approach goal is the same. You go to the gym, your house gets clean and your savings account grows.
But the attitude behind the behavior will be different when you’re encouraged by avoidance vs. approach. If you want to feel more optimistic, more confident and less stressed, consider framing your behavioral goals from an approach perspective.
Ask yourself, “What do I want to see?” Use your answer to help you frame your behavioral goals in a constructive way.
Behavioral Goals and Habit Change
Goals are usually set to help you change something in your life for the better. You might want more money, a bigger house or better relationships.
Sometimes, you don’t just want to change the outcome. You also need to change the behavior that can lead to a certain result.
Behavioral goals are ideal for doing this. Whether you want to eat healthier, exercise more, feel more gratitude or be more organized, you need lasting behavior change.
But we all know what happens when we set goals to alter our behavior. This is what many people do at the beginning of every year.
Some examples of behavioral goals that you could set for the New Year include:
- Wake up at 5 a.m.
- Go for a walk every day
- Go to the gym every day
- Write in a gratitude journal every night
- Empty out my pocketbook every week
One of the main reasons that these goals may not pan out is that they don’t align with your values. Let’s say that you value staying up late at night because it’s the only time that you can concentrate on your work or find time to put away the laundry. You also value sleep because you love having lots of energy during the day and don’t enjoy feeling irritable and exhausted.
Then waking up at 5 a.m. may not be a realistic goal. In this case, you might ask yourself why you want to get up earlier.
If your answer is, “To have time to prepare for the day before the rest of the family wakes up,” perhaps you could work some of that prep work into your nightly routine. You could make lunches, set out your clothes and put the kids’ backpacks by the door before you go to bed.
If your answer is, “Because I don’t want to feel rushed in the morning,” you might consider waking up just 10 minutes earlier or setting a goal to stop hitting the snooze button.
Are Behavioral Goals the Same as Habits?
If your behavioral goals must happen repeatedly, they can be considered habits. It’s often important to maintain regular behaviors to achieve other goals.
For example, if you want to be healthier, you probably need to make exercising a habit. If you want to leave work with an empty inbox every day, you need to create habits surrounding your email usage.
Even when they’re trying to accomplish something different, people usually fall back on the behaviors that they’re used to. Therefore, to change the results, you need to change your behavior. Creating consistent behavioral patterns can help you set a constructive foundation for your biggest goals.
About half of what you do every day is based on your habits. If you can change your habits, you can change your life.
How often have you set a goal and ditched it when it wasn’t working out? Maybe you created a one-year plan for launching a new business. You broke it down into manageable action steps. In fact, you put each step on a calendar so that you could work toward your goal every day.
However, you’re not so good at checking that calendar. You’re not used to having a time management system. When you get busy with other things in life, like your relationship or your kids, you don’t have time to reflect on your career goals.
A week goes by, and you forget to check your calendar. The next week, you’re too overwhelmed by the idea of catching up, and you ignore the schedule that you set up for yourself again. Within a month, you’ve scrapped your goals completely because you’re so stressed out.
In this case, you would need to create the habit of working with a schedule before you could progress toward your goal. You could achieve this by setting behavioral goals.
Working with this example, you might set some behavioral goals such as:
- Download a calendar app for my phone
- Buy a calendar for my desk
- Check my calendar daily
- Spend 10 minutes in the morning planning my day
- Spend 10 minutes at night assessing whether I stuck to my schedule
- Set one goal a day, and write it on my calendar
- Set a weekly goal every Sunday
This process doesn’t even address yearly or monthly goals yet. That’s because you may not be ready to perform the complex process of long-term goal setting consistently. You have to get into the habit of being more disciplined with your calendar first.
If you implement behavioral goals to help you develop healthy habits, you’ll create a foundation for managing your complex objectives as time goes on.
Behavioral Goals Must Be Clear
Behavioral goals can just be wishful thinking if they’re not clear and measurable. You won’t be able to accomplish a vague behavioral goal.
Let’s imagine that you want to spend less time on social media. You tell yourself this at the beginning of the week. On Saturday, it’s time to evaluate whether you met your goal. To accurately assess the situation, you have to know some variables. Most importantly, you need to know:
- How much time did you spend on social media before?
- How much time did you spend on social media this week?
If you didn’t measure either of those factors, then you won’t know whether you met your goal.
To be more accurate when setting behavioral goals, give yourself explicit instructions. A better way to set goals surrounding your social media usage might be:
- I will record every minute that I’m on social media.
- I will only check my social media accounts for 20 minutes every evening.
- I will turn off my phone at 7 p.m. every night.
- I will use a website blocker to be more productive when I’m on the computer.
Each of these goals also relates to a different value. In the first scenario, monitoring your time is important to you. In the second, spending quality time with your partner at night might be significant. In the third, you probably want to spend less time attached to your phone. In the fourth, you want to get more done or be more focused while working.
Behavioral Goals Examples for Your Personal Life
If you do an internet search for “behavioral goals,” you’ll find many examples of implementing behavioral goals in the workplace. However, your goals should start in your personal life. When you live by fulfilling your personal values, the other categories of your life, such as your career, finances, friendships, and romantic relationships will fall into place.
To identify some behavioral goals for your personal life, go back to your values. Which values already have a strong place in your life? Which values do you feel like you need to work on?
You can also consider some outcomes that you want. For example, if you do want to lose 5 pounds, consider the behaviors that you can take to work toward that goal.
The difference between setting behaviors as action steps and creating behavioral goals is that when you accomplish the latter, you’ll feel more like celebrating. In fact, we would suggest that if you have set up enough behavioral goals to support an outcome-based goal, you can scrap the outcome-based goal altogether.
That’s because you can’t control the outcome even if you meet all of the behavior-based goals. Would you rather hinge your measure of success on something that you can or can’t control?
Some examples of behavioral goals for your personal life might include:
- Tell my spouse something I love about them every day.
- Put away five stray items before I leave the house.
- Take a deep breath and count to 10 before responding to my kids.
- Meditate for 10 minutes after the alarm rings every morning.
- Eat three different types of vegetables with every meal.
- Turn off my phone while I’m driving.
- Read one chapter in my book before I go to bed.
- Write in a journal for 10 minutes every day.
How to Change Your Behavior When You Don’t Have the Time
Most people have so much on their to-do lists that they feel like they’d have to take a vacation just to contemplate changing their behaviors or habits. You might argue that you do things the way that you do them because you’re comfortable with the way things are.
You have a routine, and you don’t have to think too hard about it. Your life runs on autopilot, and it’s fairly smooth. You ignore the bumps because you just don’t have time to address them right now.
This is one of the problems that many people run into when they’re setting goals. It’s not a time issue, though. It’s a mindset issue.
You’re set in your ways. We all are. That’s the way that we get things done without having to contemplate every behavior or decision.
If your life is running fairly smoothly, then you might not need to change many of your behaviors. But if you run into obstacles regularly or deal with the same challenges over and over, you can stand to change some activities to optimize your productivity, stress levels, and happiness.
Be honest with yourself. Do you struggle with any of the following issues?
- Being late for appointments or forgetting them altogether
- Procrastinating on deadlines
- Accruing credit card debt
- Saving less money than you would like
- Letting the dishes or laundry pile up
- Cramming your schedule with tasks and neglecting to take time for yourself
- Getting too little sleep and being exhausted all the time
- Relying on takeout and fast food for your meals
- Not having any hobbies
- Feeling unfulfilled in life
You can improve any of the situations above by setting behavioral goals. Most behavior change can happen in as little as 10 minutes a day.
When you set behavioral goals, consider making them as small as possible. Create goals that are easy to achieve so that you can reward yourself when you accomplish them.
Establish goals that take 5 to 10 minutes so that you can’t make excuses or say that you’re too busy. Anyone can add 5 or 10 minutes to their day without interfering significantly with their sleep schedule or other obligations.
Once you’ve become adept at setting and accomplishing behavioral goals, you can achieve anything that you set out to do. You’ll start being able to support your biggest visions by taking action. You’ll create and live the life that you’ve always dreamed of.