With the start of a new semester and the worsening spread of COVID-19, the next few months seem daunting to many. The new year is often when people make goals for themselves such as getting straight As, losing a certain amount of weight or reading a certain amount of books. The fall semester brought endless challenges and hardships to the student body, causing an increase in anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress. Many students, including myself, will be setting academic, health and mindfulness goals to work towards a more successful and happier winter semester. 

During the pandemic, I discovered the importance of setting a process-based goal instead of an outcome-based goal to achieve long-lasting results and a better daily routine. Exercise was never my forté. Growing up, I would set weight goals for myself, exercise intensely or try a diet for a week, lose a couple of pounds, then reward myself by stopping the workouts and eating unhealthily. 

In quarantine, my goal wasn’t about losing weight or completing a diet for some time. Instead, the goal became getting that rewarding feeling of eating healthy and exercising. Weight and exercise are dated examples with the increasing awareness of the dangers of fad diets and the rise of the body positivity movement. However, finding a process that you enjoy can not only help you achieve desired end goals, but also improve overall mental health and routine. 

Focusing solely on the outcomes may actually be harmful and prevent you from reaching your goals. One example of an outcome-based goal is wealth. If you are just focused on the goal of wealth, you may spend money on efforts such as lottery tickets that actually draw you further from achieving your goal. A process-based goal would be to find a career that you enjoy but also ensures your financial health.

When we do not focus on developing enjoyable and implementable processes to reach our goals, we are more likely to participate in the short term, unpleasant routines that we do not stick to after we reach our goal. Fixating on a certain grade point average, club position, weight, etc., can allow for unhealthy diets, anxiety, overbearing workloads and poor mental health to take over. Even if the outcome is satisfactory, you most likely will not be able to repeatedly perform the process, as it was simply not enjoyable or healthy.

Additionally, focusing on outcome-based goals can put you in a negative headspace, worsening mental and physical health. If you tell yourself you will only be accomplished if you get into a certain major or internship program, lose a certain amount of weight or get a certain GPA, you are focusing on what is not entirely under your control. Putting all the pressure on an outcome does not lead to long term habits that can help you to reach success. 

Process-based goals have shown to be more effective at reaching long term results. Finding enjoyable processes reduces the frustration that may arise from inconsistent results or not reaching an outcome. It can take a long and unpredictable time (18 to 254 days) to form a habit. Eventually, however, the benefits of a process-based goal include sticking to the process itself, and any results are just a bonus. 

Another benefit of process-based goals is that they are much easier to implement and measure. Meditating for 15 minutes every day to relieve stress, taking breaks from school work every two hours to feel less overwhelmed and going on two runs a week to feel healthy are all examples of process-based goals that you have control over from the beginning to end. These are likely to help you reach satisfactory results if stuck to for enough time. 

If you are looking to get elected or appointed to an executive position in your campus organization, the process may be building better connections and friendships within the organization. To improve overall mental health, setting goals involving daily meditation or work breaks may be beneficial. To feel healthier and happier with your body, focus on eating foods that make you feel good and committing to exercise that you enjoy instead of a number. Process-based goals will help you reach your desired outcomes and improve other aspects of life by building enjoyable habits into your weekly routine.

Quarantine and social distancing have caused isolation, boredom and frustration for many. Process-based goals can add a daily distraction with something new to focus on. Starting with something small like dedicating five or 10 minutes a day to a new activity that you have been wanting to try can lead to great results and improve mental health and morale. 

Lizzy Peppercorn can be reached at epepperc@umich.edu.   

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