Imagine this scenario: You’re chasing a suspect along the side of a building and they round the corner a few feet in front of you. When you get to the corner, do you pause, or do you keep running, rounding the corner yourself? The answer could be driven by many elements, but one important factor is the type of thinking you engage in. Are you more motivated by the outcome (catching the suspect) or by the process (training and tactics)? Of course, outcomes are an important aspect of the job; however, where officers often develop problems is when they sacrifice a process mentality for an outcome-only mentality. In this article, I will discuss these two types of thinking and strategies to cultivate a “process mentality” that will ultimately set you up for successful outcomes.
If you are only focused on the outcome, you may round the corner without considering the possibility that the suspect could be waiting to ambush you.
Outcome-oriented thinking is focusing on a specific goal. For example, achieving a certain rank, earning a degree or buying a house may be ultimate outcome goals. Outcome goals are important for cultivating motivation and ambition and help us strive for success. These types of goals also give us direction and purpose to work toward. The downside of outcome goals is that they can create unnecessary pressure and make you feel like a disappointment if you’re not progressing fast enough. The extra pressure created by an outcome goal can become dangerous in a high-stakes situation. In the above example of chasing a suspect, if you are only focused on the outcome, you may round the corner without considering the possibility that the suspect could be waiting to ambush you. Thus, if you are only focused on outcome goals, you may be setting yourself up for failure or worse.
On the other hand, process goals are smaller, “bite-sized” goals that will help you achieve your outcome goals. These goals provide a road map to success and allow for flexibility along the way. For example, for many people, losing weight is a frequently cited outcome goal. However, you may find that even if you diet and exercise, you do not meet your ultimate outcome goal. This may lead to a sense of frustration, failure and disappointment. However, if you focus on process goals, such as “I am going to eat healthier and exercise more,” you are more likely to sustain the behavior. The ability to stay with it and shift your focus from the outcome (losing weight) to the process (living healthier) may ultimately result in meeting your desired outcome, but it also means that even if you don’t lose the weight, you will still feel successful in meeting your process goals. In the above example of chasing a suspect, process thinking would guide you to pause at the corner and consider all possible scenarios before proceeding.
The downside of process thinking is it may keep you in your comfort zone. Thus, we need both types of thinking to achieve success. The following are some tips on how to harness the power of both types of goal-setting:
- Evaluate your past goal-setting strategy — has it worked for you?
- Set big-picture goals for yourself and evaluate what is truly important about those goals.
- Break down your big goals into smaller goals that are achievable and measurable.
- Create contingency plans that allow for flexibility and alternative paths to success.
- Practice implementing both process and outcome thinking in different training scenarios, and evaluate which sets you up for success.
- Ask yourself whether your goals keep you in your comfort zone. Does that suit you?