Outcome or Mastery ? How Focusing on Results is Hurting You

Author - Stephen Griffith C.S.C.S. 


Results. Results. Results. The fitness industry is all about results -promoting lean sexy bodies, rapid muscle gains, and dramatic weight loss. You’re either a winner or a loser in this industry. Paradoxically it's this obsession with results that is preventing most people from achieving them.

The end results we see and admire on the field or in magazines comes from the work that person does day in and day out. How do those people stay motivated for so long and how can we do the same? Motivation psychology can offer insight into how a person can stay motivated through the use of achievement goal theory.

“Achievement motivation refers to a person's effort to master a task, achieve excellence, overcome obstacles, perform better than others, and take pride in exercising talent. It is a person's orientation to strive for task success, persist in the face of failure and experience pride in accomplishments (Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology)”.

Achievement orientation refers to a person's basic attitude, belief, or feeling in relation to achieving a goal.

According to  Achievement Goal Theory, it is the interaction between a person’s achievement orientation(mindset) and their own perceived ability, that influences their behavior. Adopting a proper mindset toward the goals you have is essential for long-term success. The two main orientations one can have are an outcome orientation and a mastery orientation.

A person with an outcome orientation is focused on the end result. Examples of an outcome goal may include;  to defeat another team, to run a certain time, or achieve a certain physique. While these goals serve a purpose, being too concerned with results carries negative effects.

As stated in Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology by Robert Weinberg and Daniel Gould: “People who are outcome oriented and have a low perceived competence demonstrate a low or maladaptive achievement behavioral pattern. That is, they are likely to reduce their efforts, cease trying, or make excuses”.  

An outcome-oriented person measures their ability only on whether they succeed or fail. The issue with outcome goals is that the outcome depends on multiple variables, many of which are outside of a person's control.  When “failure” occurs it damages a person's perception of self.    To protect their self-worth the person is more likely to gravitate toward activities they are certain to succeed at (such as task too easy to elicit improvement) or task too difficult in which no one would expect them to succeed at.

So let's’ get into a better mindset!

“Sport psychologist argue that a mastery orientation more often than an outcome orientation leads to a strong work ethic, persistence in the face of failure and optimal performance. This orientation can protect a person from disappointment, frustration, and a lack of motivation when the performance of others is superior. Because focusing on personal performance provides greater control, individuals become more motivated and persist longer in the face of failure”

-excerpt from  Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology

I am a believer in a mastery-oriented approach. A mastery mindset puts a focus on the process as opposed to the product.  In this approach, a person will compare their performances with themselves - focusing on factors they can influence as opposed to those which are out of our their control. Doing so will allow you to build self-confidence on a solid base because you are only comparing your progress to yourself, not others.

Outcome goals are not bad, but overemphasizing them can be. Success is a byproduct of hard work and continual improvement so focus your efforts on that act of improving.  When you do this, results take care of themselves.  So I encourage all my health seekers out there to not stress about the end result but instead on the process of your own improvement.  Whether you're taking small steps or big strides as long as you're moving forward you will reach your destination.

Referenced Text 

IWeinberg, Robert, and Daniel Gould. "Motivation." Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Fifth ed. Human Kinetics, 2011. Print.

Stephen Griffith