16 Examples of Leading and Lagging Indicators to Help You Set Your Own

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A couple of years ago I stumbled upon the idea of leading and lagging indicators in the book The 12 Week Year. I immediately made these part of my goal-setting system and was amazed at how much more effective my goals were. But you might be wondering, like I did at first, what are leading and lagging indicators, and what are some examples of them?

Leading (or lead) indicators are the action steps you take toward an end result. They “lead” you to the outcome you want. Lagging (or lag) indicators are the end result you’re hoping to get by doing the action steps. For lag indicators, the results “lag” behind the action steps (leading indicators).

Here are a few quick examples of leading indicators to give you an idea of how they work:

  • Running three times per week
  • Making three sales calls per day
  • Spending 30 minutes of quality family time each day
  • Meditating for 10 minutes every day

Another way to look at it is that the lagging indicator is your actual end goal and the leading indicator is the plan you make to reach that goal.

To utilize these for your own goals, ask “where do I want to end up?” to find your lagging indicators, and “what do I need to do each day to get there?” when setting your leading indicators.

As I started using these for each of my own goals, I started to realize something pretty remarkable. Every goal that I had established a leading and lagging indicator for already followed the SMART system! I was setting SMART goals in less than half the time, and you can do the same. I wrote about this more in my article on how to use lead and lag indicators to make your goals SMART, which you can check out right here.

A Quick Note on How These Examples Are Set Up

In this article, I won’t go into the details of leading and lagging indicators as much. The idea is pretty simple. But to help you understand it better, I want to focus here on giving examples of each so you can see how to set your own!

I divide my goals into the following four areas, which I’ll be using to structure the rest of this article:

  • Faith & spirituality
  • Family & social
  • Finances, including learning, work, and money
  • Fitness, including diet, exercise, and rest

You can read more about these areas of life, and why you should set your goals according to them, by clicking right here

For these examples I’m going to put the lagging indicator on the left side because you’ll want to start with the end result and then determine the action steps. This is how you begin with the end in mind, as Stephen Covey taught in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Now let’s jump right into these examples of leading and lagging indicators starting with the faith & spirituality category!

Examples of Leading & Lagging Indicators for Faith Goals

Lagging IndicatorLeading Indicator
Become more mindful and improve my mental healthMeditate every day for 10 minutes
Develop a deeper connection with GodSpend 30 minutes in prayer and scripture study every day
Become a more positive person online and in personReplace reading the news with reading an uplifting non-fiction book
Develop a deeper love for everybody around mePractice loving-kindness meditation for 15 minutes every day

Examples of Leading & Lagging Indicators for Family & Social Goals

Lagging IndicatorLeading Indicator
Grow closer to my spouseHave date-night once a week for 52 weeks straight
Become more outgoingTalk to a stranger once a day for 75 days straight
Connect more deeply with my kidsSpend at least 30 minutes a day with my kids for 12-weeks straight
Get a new friend group that’s supportive and cares about meGo to one social event a week where my type of people would hang out and talk to 3 new people while there

Examples of Leading & Lagging Indicators for Financial & Intellectual Goals

Lagging IndicatorLeading Indicator
Grow my income to $100,000 a yearMake 3 sales calls per day every weekday for an entire year
Develop a new skillPurchase an online course and spend 30 minutes a day learning from it and practicing the skill once I finish the course
Save $10,000Save $210 a month for 4 years
Get a promotionDo one significant thing that goes above and beyond what your boss expects of you every day

Examples of Leading & Lagging Indicators for Fitness Goals

Lagging IndicatorLeading Indicator
Get body fat down to 12%Participate in the 75 Hard challenge until I reach my desired body fat
Finish a half marathon in 90 minutes or lessRun 3x per week, lift weights 2x per week, and get a virtual coach
Complete an Iron ManRun 2x per week, swim 2x per week, and bike 2x per week
Become more mindful of my relationship with food and how full I amOnly eat until I’m 80% full at every meal for 84 days straight

Wrapping Up

You’ll notice that for most of the examples of leading indicators I’ve included timelines. This is a simple step that not only makes your goals SMART, but also makes you far more likely to accomplish them. 

There’s also an element of challenge to each of these. I’ve been learning recently that trying to see how long you can go without missing a day of something is an extremely powerful way to help you stick to your goals.

Setting effective goals takes effort. Often, though, we get lost in the details and accidentally set plans, or lagging indicators, instead of goals, or leading indicators. 

By implementing leading and lagging indicators into your goal-setting system you’ll never get confused about the difference between goals and plans again. You’ll also create a more powerful vision for your life and be more consistent at getting the results you desire. 

Before long, this one simple change to your goals can have you reaching them far more frequently than you ever have before. I know because that’s how they’ve affected my own goals!