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Blog Post: January 2021

CPD Junkie Blog

"New Year’s resolutions are vague and outcome-driven, goals provide you with structure and the means to reach your destination"

Jennifer Truong

Know the Difference – Resolutions vs. Goals

Written by Jennifer Truong

New Year… New Year’s resolutions… new you! It’s generally accepted that a new year is a perfect time for new beginnings, greater productivity, and an unyielding effort to be better than your former self. 

But what exactly are resolutions? More importantly, what is the difference between resolutions and goals? A resolution is the decision to either do or not do something. It is tied to an outcome or an end result. For instance, consider the New Year’s resolution: “I want to increase patient rapport.” Solution: Improve communication skills. Resolution: Build stronger patient rapport.

So how do resolutions differ from goals? A goal is the means to a desired result. Contrary to resolutions, an effective goal encompasses both the solution and resolution. In other words, a goal considers the steps you should take to achieve a resolution. Consider the previous example. An effective goal for the same resolution might be: “I plan to enrol in communication courses to improve patient rapport, which can be measured by an increase in treatment plan acceptance rates”.

This discussion begs the question: which is more effective, a goal or a resolution? If you have ever (or already!) succeeded in achieving your New Year’s resolutions, take pride and congratulate yourself, because this is a rare feat. According to U.S. News and World Report, approximately 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail within 30 days. But why do so many fail?

Well, resolutions are based on the end goal, rather than the process. The expectations for resolutions are often too high, and we go in with an all-or-nothing attitude, resulting in disappointment and demotivation when we don’t instantly obtain our ‘perfect’ results. Often, resolutions lack real commitment and are probably the result of some heavy-duty procrastination, “I’ll start tomorrow! No, I’ll start next week. Well, maybe I’ll start next year.”

Alternatively, effective goals require preparation, thorough planning, an aim, and appropriate execution. What, then, makes a goal “effective?”

Types of goals

The three main types of goals are: process, performance, and outcome goals.

  • Process goals are the ‘how to’ or the processes involved in obtaining your outcome, and they are entirely within your control. For example, if your resolution is to get a new job, your goal might be to apply to three clinics a week.
  • Performance goals are based on performing to a certain level/standard. Using the previous example, your goal might be to secure at least three job interviews in the next month. Process goals are mostly within your control.
  • Outcome goals are the ultimate goal, or “winning” aspect. Again, using the previous example, your outcome goal might be to get hired to work at your dream practice. Unlike process and performance goals, outcome goals may be outside your control due to uncontrollable factors (e.g. the performance of other job applicants).

Process, performance, and outcome goals are linearly dependent. Achieving your process goals will likely help you achieve your performance goals, which will then help you obtain your outcome goals.

Make SMART goals

To help formulate effective goals, the “SMART” approach deconstructs goals into five components:

Specific

  • Make sure your goals are clear and tailored to your needs. Avoid vague goals by keeping in mind the five ‘W’s’ (what, when, where, why and who). 

Measurable

  • Set a goal that will allow you to objectively track your progression and determine how far you are from obtaining your desired results.

 Achievable

      • Be realistic and ensure that your goals are attainable. However, your goals should still be moderately challenging—that makes it more satisfying when you reach them!

Relevant

    • Your goal should be specifically tailored to you and your needs.

Timely

    • Set a realistic time frame to achieve your goals. Doing so allows you to measure your progress, ensures that you are on track to complete them, and keeps you from becoming discouraged.

Consider another example where ‘increasing productivity’ is your New Year’s resolution. A SMART goal might be to increase the number of patients you see at clinic by 5% annually.

Whereas New Year’s resolutions are vague and outcome-driven, goals provide you with structure and the means to reach your destination. I’m not trying to say New Year’s resolutions are doomed to fail, but if you find yourself struggling with yours and feeling defeated prior to the year’s end, then you may want to consider rephrasing the resolution as a goal (or series of goals) that lead to the resolution. After all, a goal without a plan is merely a dream.

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