In a culture focused on results – like winning, surpassing, achieving – why are so many of these outcomes illusive?
Actors, musicians, and writers get the break of a lifetime and dim into obscurity shortly thereafter. Athletes achieve homerun championships, and break down physically, finding themselves forced into retirement a few years later. 99 percent of people who lose substantial weight (over 25 pounds) regain it within two years.
A shift in focus can extend these one-hit wonders, or any “failure,” into a constant flow of reward, expanding the fulfillment received from any achievement and bestowing a heap of self-growth in the process.
What’s a Better Focus?
To focus on the process or your effort is more empowering than a fleeting stab at a win.
After all, we are the only ones who know what effort we give to a project or goal. That’s where progress is made and lost, and where we have to self-manage to get to an objective. That’s blood-and-guts self-growth that lasts way past any goal.
Marathon runners were first to adopt the idea of a personal best, rather than focusing on the last race. This keeps them involved with their own growth and learning, as well as their physical condition. A body fighting off an injury might not win the race, but the runner knows and feels how much effort they summoned to get to the finish line.
Many goals require new behaviors, habits, and focus. To focus on the process means becoming open to feedback; whereas focusing on the goal simply points out the fact the goal might be just as far away, or farther, despite many excellent changes in behavior.
Progress is a lonely, bitter road, especially if we wait to achieve the goal before celebrating and acknowledging the strides it takes to travel it. It also robs us of valuable feedback.
3 Examples on How To Focus on The Process
Example 1: Weight Loss
I struggled with excess weight most of my life. While focused on a diet, I wanted instant gratification – as diets promise. When an arbitrary number was my focus, I saw myself day after day NOT getting what I wanted.
I always gave up. It seemed I was constantly failing. Is it any wonder that most diets don’t work? We might be jazzed up over losing 50 pounds, but after two or three days and a mere pound difference on the scale, it’s time for a hot fudge sundae.
It often feels like the goal is running away faster than we can pursue it.
After struggling with the concept of an ideal weight and diets for 20 years, I finally lost over 90 pounds permanently. I achieved this change by letting go of the goal and changing my focus. When executing new behaviors on a daily basis, each day can be a huge WIN.
The truth is, permanent weight loss is going to happen in its own time anyway, when the body is ready to release weight.
Now that 90+ pounds has been out of my life for over 17 years, I see the power when we focus on the process and our own efforts.
Example 2: Career Change
When Jane (not her real name) hired me to help her change careers, she was fed up, frustrated, and pissed off at her current job, boss, and company. As she daydreamed about a more fulfilling job, she pictured a better work atmosphere, where she felt valued. She also saw herself successful and happy in her meaningful new endeavors.
She was not, however, getting very far on dreams. Showing up for work, to an atmosphere she had come to hate, made her goal seem impossible and increased her anxiety.
I can still hear her response when we switched focus to the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks which would get her moving,
She wanted a new job, in a new field. She wasn’t so keen on the work it would take to get there. She was also lacking confidence.
But, through a series of homework assignments, she began to give herself credit for meeting new contacts through networking, sending out resumes, following up on jobs in the field she was targeting, as well as contacting friends in similar jobs for tips.
Before long, she was humming with confidence and energy.
Hey, she reported to me: she was GOOD at this!
Example 3: Bestselling Author
For creative or artistic folks, focusing on being a bestselling author or Academy Award-winning actor can preclude learning, practicing, and mastering the skills and self-discipline so necessary for artistic pursuits.
After all, many creative endeavors require being a self-starter AND self-finisher. That takes skills like discipline and self-awareness, which can only be learned through personal experience (as well as one or two failures).
Most of those award-winning performances by actors who can’t follow up with another hit are due to a lack of effective work ethic. Directors and casting agents can spot one-hit wonders, which got lucky, versus a dedicated talent in a heartbeat.
Focus on the process, not just your destination. Self-growth isn’t just a reward of effort – it’s the entire point.
The proof is in the pudding.
Sister Madonna Buder, an 84-year-old nun who has competed in 40 triathlons, began running at age 48 and competed in her first triathlon at age 52. Several triathlons have had to open to new age categories for her participation and Nike featured her under the affectionate nickname, “The Iron Nun,” in one of their commercials.
She credits her age-defying success to long-term vision, instead of a single trophy.
“Your effort in itself is success,” she says.