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In life, it is important to enjoy the process, not just focus on the outcome. This is something I struggle with a lot. At work, I’m often focused on outcome. “Let’s get this paper published ASAP!” “What’s your plan for defending your dissertation and graduating?” “Let’s get this grant submitted, and then I can relax.” I’m the same way at Crossfit. I want to complete a workout in a certain amount of time, or lift a certain amount of weight. I want to place in the top 10% in the Open. And so on.

Focusing Only on the Outcome: 3 Key Problems

I think there are three main problems with focusing only on the outcome:

  1. Focusing on the outcome only lets you be happy a small percentage of the time. When I’m writing a paper, the process (i.e., conducting the research, doing the writing, submitting the manuscript, responding to the reviewer comments, etc.) takes the vast majority of the time. Maybe 99%. The outcome (i.e., receiving the letter that says the paper was accepted) is really short. It’s over and done with before I can fully appreciate it.
  2. Often you can’t control the outcome. A lot of times in life, the outcome is outside your control. I might write a great paper, but it still gets rejected. I might train hard, but still not achieve a certain score. I can control the process, but often I can’t control the outcome. I’m happier when I focus on the things I can control.
  3. Focusing on the outcome encourages me to take the short view over the long view. Sometimes being outcome-focused encourages me to focus on success right this second. This can be detrimental in the long run, because a lot of the important things in life require sustained energy over time at about 80% effort. There usually aren’t shortcuts. I’ll give you an example. Awhile back in Crossfit, I really wanted to get stronger. Because I was so focused on the outcome, I was pushing it and coming into the gym for extra workouts. Then I hurt my knee. So being outcome-focused actually set me back in the long run.

How to Focus on the Process

How can we work to change from being outcome-focused to process-focused? One thing that has helped me is viewing myself as being “in process” and trying to be okay with that. It’s okay if I don’t achieve perfection or reach every one of my goals right this second. Giving myself grace has allowed me to slow down and enjoy the journey, regardless of the final destination.

Also, when I find myself becoming too outcome-focused, I ask myself this question: If I don’t end up getting the outcome I want, would I still enjoy this activity or find it meaningful? For example, if I don’t get this paper published in a top-tier journal, would I still enjoy the research and writing? If I don’t ever make it to Regionals, would I still enjoy doing Crossfit?

If you ask yourself this question and you get a “no,” you may want to question whether the activity is healthy and good for you and your overall well-being.

Discussion: What is one activity that you are outcome-focused rather than process-focused? What is one step you could take toward becoming more process-focused in this activity?

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