Becoming is Sometimes Better than Being Stretch Goals Are Great, But Identity Goals Might be Even Better

What types of goals should we set? Process goals trump outcome goals - we know that already. Our focus should be on the inputs instead of the outcomes. But what about stretch goals and identity goals? What are they, and which is more effective? 

Here is where you use them both.


What is a Stretch Goal and what is an Identity Goal?

If you don’t know what a stretch goal is, you need a conversation with your manager. Stretch goals are business-speak at their finest. Identity goals are different. We all have our own inherent identity or self-concept and it is based on the things we think and say about ourselves. “I’m a runner” is an identity that we might have, or “I’m a good mum” might be another. Soemtimes to achieve an outcome, we actually might need to change our identity.


When are Stretch Goals Useful?

Stretch Goals are useful whenever you already have an identity, and you just want to take it a bit further. 


Let’s say you’re a runner. You run most days of the week, you hang out with other runners, you have the Garmin watch and you actually know how to use it :) Maybe you’ve run 5km and 10km races before and regularly follow training programs to prepare for these races. In this case, setting stretch goals is really useful. You might set a goal to run a marathon or to run a new 10km PB by the end of the year. You’re already a runner, so you are just stretching that identity a bit further. 


What about Identity Goals?

But let’s say you’re a couch potato (no disrespect to potatoes) who wants to start running. You are absolutely not a runner and if people asked you “are you a runner?” you’d die laughing. In this case, your best goal is an identity goal. Why? Because you actually need to change your identity and your self-concept to become the person who runs most days of the week. 


Your identity goal is something you want to think or say about yourself and it is most effective to set this in present tense. Your goal would be to be a runner, and what you would say to yourself regularly is: “I am a runner,” or perhaps more generally “I am a person who works out.” This new self-concept should be your source of motivation for choosing new behaviours.


How Does this Apply to Teams?

If you’re already good at something, set stretch goals. But if you’re starting out on something (even a culture journey) set identity or self-concept goals. Maybe to achieve a higher level of what you are doing, you set stretch goals, but to completely change your culture or become really good at something else, Identity Goals are the way to go.



** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.

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