Successful Goal Setting For ADHD: You’ll Love The Process Strategy

Have ADHD? Lear the best goal setting strategy for you!

As an ADHDer, coach, and goal-getter, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the goal-setting process.

I’ve considered different approaches to maintain commitment, strategies to constrain your focus, and ways to build momentum as you dive in and make things happen.

And throughout this exploration, I’ve discovered that – when it comes to setting and reaching goals – setting process goals can be one of the most valuable approaches for the ADHD brain.

Why?

Well, that’s exactly what we talk about on episode 137 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast.

So if you’re curious about what process goals are.

If you want to know why they’re so ADHD friendly. 

And if you’re curious about how you can start using process goals in your life.

Then be sure to tune into episode 137 now.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:  

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 137, You Will Discover

  • The power of process goals (and what they are)
  • Why process goals are so effective for the ADHD brain
  • How to use process goals in your life

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Episode #137 – Successful Goal Setting For ADHD: You’ll Love This Strategy (Transcript)

You’re listening to the I’m busy being awesome podcast with Paula Engebretson episode number 136. Hey everybody. Welcome back. How are you?

Today we are exploring a different way to think about goals, setting goals, and approaching goals. And it is an approach that I think is incredibly valuable for the ADHD brain or for anybody who tends to have a bit of an aversion to the goal-setting process. It’s especially powerful for those brains that think, “I don’t know about this who goal setting thing… I never reach them anyway.”

And I know there are so many of you out there with similar doubts because I hear from my clients and I hear from you directly that there’s often a lot of discomfort around this topic. We might love the idea of setting and reaching goals objectively, but when it comes down to actually setting the specific goal, breaking it down, and taking action on that plan, it becomes real. And we quickly grow doubtful about how to make that happen. 

And our brain starts offering thoughts like, “I don’t know that I really want to set this goal because if I set it and don’t reach it, it’s further proof that I can’t do what I set out to do.  It’s one more example that I can’t reach my potential. It is one more piece of evidence that my brain will hold against me.”

I think that it’s much easier for our brain to seek out this pattern of thinking when we set the big, impossible, outcome-based goals. (And by outcome I mean “by June 30th I will have the entire house repainted and redecorated and I know I will have reached this goal because of this specific evidence.) This type of outcome base goal makes it easier for our brain to focus on – as we explored in depth over the last few episodes – the gap, right? 

When we think about our traditional approach to goal setting with a far-off objective in the future, we tend to dwell on how far we have to go. And with that mindset, it’s easy for the brain to start thinking things like, “I’m never going to get there. I’m so far behind.”  And we feel so discouraged. We feel so frustrated that we’re not farther along. And then we start self-sabotaging by thinking, “I knew it; I knew I couldn’t reach this goal. This is what always happens to me. I always fall off the wagon.” 

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And I really want to begin challenging this narrative for the distractible brain, especially. I am on a mission to find ways to help support all of your incredible brains so that you can see even more wins – even more gains – and start believing even further what I know to be true, which is that you are a person who can absolutely reach your goals and make things happen. 

You are a person who follows through. You are a person who makes a plan, sticks to it, and gets it done. I know this is true for you because I used to think the same way, too. And I have the honor of helping clients every day with this very thing and I see it happen for them. Since I know in my bones that it’s possible for every one of you, I’m always thinking about different ways that we can explore these topics. 

Because – as I say time and time again – it’s all about finding the approach that works for your brain. What works for one brain might not work for another. And that doesn’t mean that one way is better than another. It just means keep iterating until we find the approach that locks in for you. 

Today I am looking forward to sharing this different approach to goal setting. It’s one that seems to resonate well with the ADHD brain. The reason it’s so effective for distractible and goal-resistant brains is that it allows you to see your wins and recognize your gains much easier. And the approach we’re exploring today focuses on what’s often called a process goal.

What is a Process Goal?

So what is a process goal? A process goal provides a focus on the things that are within your control. Rather than focusing on selling 15 pieces of Jewelry in your Etsy shop, you’re instead focused on posting on social media and talking about what you sell 4 times per week.

And I like to take this definition of the process goal one step further. To me, a process goal takes the best parts of an outcome goal and habit goal and combines them together.

You see, a habit-based goal focuses on something that you want to establish as a continual habit. For example, I’m working on a habit-based goal of getting eight hours of sleep per night. (Or at least be in bed trying to sleep for 8 hours…) And that is something that I continually work toward. It’s a habit that I want to maintain for the foreseeable future.

Another type of habit-based goal might be meditating for 10 minutes per day. It could be doing a thought download every day before you start your work, or meal prepping every Sunday afternoon. It’s a habit that you want to establish and maintain on a regular or semi-regular basis.

Process Goal vs. Outcome Goal

Have ADHD? You Can Reach Your Goals With This Strategy

Now on the other side, we have our outcome-based goals. These are the more typical goals that people tend to talk about. And this might sound like, I want to have the first round of my book to my publisher by August. Or I want to have my blog and website completed by May. I want to be able to take clear, well-balanced photographs in manual mode with my DSLR camera in all lighting. I want to make X amount of revenue in my business by the end of the year. So with the outcome goal, you have the clear stopping point that you’re working toward. 

Well, with the process-based goal, as I mentioned, I think you get the best of both worlds. You bring in the smaller habits and benchmarks of the habit goal, which makes the process seem more doable. The brain has an easier time grasping the possibility of writing 200 words per day over writing a book. 

Plus, when we have these smaller benchmarks, it allows us to – as a throwback to the last couple of episodes on defining success – quickly see our gains. It allows us to measure our gains and to see our wins much more easily. 

And finally, we bring in the “bigness” and the excitement surrounding the outcome-based goal, but it’s broken down into smaller, more bite-sized pieces. So rather than thinking to yourself, “I’ll make a habit of writing 200 words per day.” and leaving it at that, which can get a bit dull. OR deciding, “I’m going to write a book by the end of the year.” and let your brain freak out by thinking it’s impossible. We instead can combine the two with: if I write 200 words per day for a year – which is about ½ of a single-spaced page – I will have 73,000 words. And for reference, your typical book will average somewhere between 70,000-90,000 words. How fun is that? 200 words a day for a year and you’ll have the first draft of a book. 

Now to all of you writing a book right now, I hear you sighing loudly. I know there’s the editing and revising, and days of writer’s block and all the things that come with writing a book. But when we can focus on the general concept, it can really help get the brain on board with goal setting because it’s both doable AND you’re working toward an end objective. 

Or maybe you want to run more, but just establishing a running habit does not make your brain naturally light up. Well, what if you decided to run one mile two to three times per week for a year? If you do that, you would have run five marathons by the end of the year. The specifics break down to 2.52 miles a week, so whether you run 1 ¼ miles twice a week, or you do it all at in one run once per week, or you do 5 ½ mile jogs each week – by the end of the year you’d have run the equivalent of 5 marathons. 

How Do You Set Process Goals for ADHD?

Now if you ask me, seeing what those smaller habits add up to on the big scale is so fun! And that leads me to five reasons why I especially love this approach of the process-based goal for the ADHD brain, or for the goal averse or goal-skeptic brain. (Basically, anyone who doesn’t particularly love setting those big outcome goals.) 

And I hope that after hearing these reasons today, I might sell you on exploring a process-based goal for yourself! Especially if you’re looking for the next project or challenge, but you’re not sure how to get started. 

Process Goals Are Incremental

So, the first reason why I love the idea of the process-based goal is that it’s incremental. It’s doable. It seems more manageable. And as I mentioned, because of this, it’s often easier for the brain to get on board. The toddler brain doesn’t scare quite so easily as it might when looking at some giant outcome-based, impossible goal. If you thought to yourself, I’m going to run over 130 miles this year, and you don’t normally run, your brain may freak out about this. But if you broke it down to 2.5 miles per week or 1.25 miles twice a week, it not only feels more doable but throw in the fact that you’d run the equivalent of 5 marathons and that’s just plain fun. 

Or if we think about that goal of traveling to the Grand Canyon next year. This may seem like an impossibility, but if you made a process-based goal where you save a certain amount of money each month, and you identify what you’re saving for with each month, that makes it more doable. So maybe you save X amount in March, which covers a plane ticket. And you save Y amount in April and it covers your partner’s ticket. You save Z amount in May and it covers the first two nights in the Air BnB etc

So adding up your savings throughout the process and allocating where that savings is going can make the situation both fun and more doable. Especially when you compare it to thinking, well, we need to save up this many thousands of dollars for the trip. 

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Build Belief In Yourself

The second reason why I really love the idea of the process goal is that when you stick with it, it helps you build your belief in yourself with each day that you add to the goal.

And what I mean here is if we think about the running example. If you currently don’t run and you want to run 5 marathons worth of miles by the end of the year, then each day that you run, or each week that you add the 2.5 miles to your tally, you strengthen your belief. You believe even more deeply that you’re a person who runs. And in fact, you begin taking on the identity that “I’m a runner.” You start embodying that idea. 

The same goes for writing your book each day. If each day you sit down and write those 200 words, – even if they don’t make any sense sometimes – you’re getting the ideas out of your head, onto paper, into your computer, whatever it is. And you’re building the belief in yourself and your identity as a writer. 

Measure Your Wins With Process Goals

Now I also love doing process goals because – as I’ve alluded to – it’s such a fun way to measure your wins. It’s so fun to be able to look back each day and think, “Wow! Look how much farther I’ve gone in my process.”  

So if we stick to our example of saving for a trip to the Grand Canyon, it is so much fun to think about what you’ve saved for – your plane tickets, the nights in the Air BnB, money for any of the activities you want to do. And having that tangible evidence of what you’ve saved for specific things makes it more real for the brain. It’s easier to think, it’s working! This is happening! Look how much we’ve saved! Look how far we’ve come!

Don’t Break the Chain

Now the fourth reason why I love the process-based goal approach is that it builds on the concept of “don’t break the chain,” which I’ve mentioned on the podcast before – I think it was the episode in all or nothing thinking. But as a reminder, there’s this concept that’s often attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, where he made a habit of writing a joke every single day. And each day that he wrote it, it’s mark an X on the calendar. And once you have that streak going, the brain doesn’t want to challenge that. It doesn’t want to break the chain. Maybe you’ve experienced that with closing the rings on your apple watch or something like that. 

And when we have process goals, we also help reinforce this “don’t break the chain.” Just think about it; if you have a streak where you’ve written 200 words for 60 days, you better believe on that 61st day, your brain would have something to say about breaking the streak. 

Maintain Commitment After The Novelty Wears Off

Now the fifth reason why I love process goals for those of us who struggle with goal setting is that once the novelty of the new habit wears off, you still have the bigger picture objective as well as the smaller benchmarks to keep the interest up and commitment strong. And this can sometimes seem more challenging when we’ve focused strictly on the habit goal without those benchmarks or objectives. 

So if we think about saving money for your trip, simply putting away $500 a month is great. But it’s also easier for the brain to slip into drudgery thoughts. It’s easy to think only about the importance of saving and not spending any money. While on the other side of the coin, knowing specifically what you’re saving for and celebrating once you have the money to pay for each new part of the vacation often makes it more fun for the brain to get on board and feel excited as it thinks about the progress you’re making. 

If you’re decluttering your house, simply picking away at it piece by piece may start to drag on when the brain has to work to notice the progress. However, if you divide your house up by room, and you dedicate one week to decluttering and the next week to organizing, and you move through the house, room by room every two weeks, you would see incredible progress and know that with each month you’re two rooms closer to a decluttered and organized space.

Recap

So again, the five reasons why I think focusing on process goals can be so impactful for the goal averse brains, ADHD brains, or those who feel skeptical of goal setting are:

  1. Process goals are incremental, which takes away the impossibility and shock factor that often comes with the outcome based goal.
  2. They help you build up your belief in yourself and your ability to follow through on what you planned.
  3. They make it possible to measure your wins and celebrate your successes along the way.
  4. The play on the proven strategy of “don’t break the chain,” which helps us stick with our habits once they’re established.
  5. They help us maintain excitement and commitment even after the novelty of the new goal wears off. 

What Are Examples Of Process Goals?

So what might this look like? Well, we’ve had a few different examples so far in this episode with organizing the house, running an accumulated 5 marathons, saving for a trip, writing a book. But what else could we do? 

Well, maybe you think about some creativity goals or projects you want to pursue. 

For example, perhaps you’re interested in learning meeting more people in your community and learning some new skills and you decide to sign up for a new class each month. So maybe you set a process goal to take at least one class per month, and by the end of the year, you will have learned at least 12 new skills and connected with lots of new people who share similar interests. 

I mean, think of the neuroplasticity, the stretching of your brain that you’d do – by learning all of these new concepts and all of these new tools while also making new connections. How fun is that?  

Right now, I am working on what’s called a temperature blanket. In fact, this is one of the ideas that sparked an inkling for this podcast. So I’m working on this crocheted blanket. And honestly, if I thought to myself, hey! I should sit down and crochet a blanket. My excitement would come in strong and then fizzle out about 2 or 3 days in – not going to lie. 

But with the temperature blanket, it’s different. With this project, each day you crochet one single line of the blanket, and you do so in a color that pertains to a certain temperate. So for example, if it’s 0-20 I crochet a purple line, if it’s 20-30 it’s a dark blue, and so on and so forth. And then by the end of the year, you have a complete blanket that’s recorded the year’s temperatures in this beautiful pattern. 

And this episode is coming out in the beginning of March, so I’m not super far along yet. But every day I make a little bit more progress. Every day I get excited to see what the color is that I get to add to my blanket. And each day I capture one more day of 2022 in Boston. 

So this idea of process goals is such a fun way to approach the goal-setting process. Because not only do you get to start small, you get to start doable, you get to choose something that feels manageable. Your brain is much less likely to freak ou thinking, there’s no way I can do all of this. And instead can lean into thoughts like, I know exactly what I need to do today. I have my plan. I got this. And as you keep showing up for yourself, you get to pause and recognize your successes and celebrate you wins as you move one step closer to this incredible end goal. 

So with that, I invite you to give these process-based goals some consideration for yourself. Where do you notice yourself feeling a little bit skeptical of or hesitant to set goals? Where are you telling yourself “I’m just not a goal person.” or “I don’t really see the point, I never stick to them anyway.” Or what’s something you’ve had on your mind, but you’ve been dragging your feet because the end goal seems insurmountable and you don’t know where to start?

Then ask yourself, how could I turn this into a process-based goal? What might that look like? What are the smaller steps I could take? How do they add up to the end goal? How can I help ensure I celebrate each of those benchmarks along the way? 

Keep your mind open and curious, and I think you’ll be excited by what you find. And once you do, pop over to Instagram and let me know! I’m @imbusybeingawesome, and I would love to hear about it.

Also, if you’re enjoying this podcast, would you do me a favor and open up your podcast app right now and leave me a rating and a sentence or two of a review? It helps other busy- awesome brains find the podcast and get these tools, too. I really appreciate it.

Alright, my friends, that’s going to do it for us this week. And if you’re ready to take the concepts you’ve learned on the podcast to the next level. If you’re ready to learn how to support your ADHD and work with your unique brain within a small, supportive community of busy awesome humans just like you, I invite you to check out today’s show notes or head to imbusybeingawesome.com/group to learn more about how we can make that happen. 

Also,  if you know someone who would love to learn more about process goals, would you be a rockstar and share this episode with them? Each time you do, you help me get these tools to even more people, and I really appreciate it.

Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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