Think about a goal you want to achieve. Any goal. Now visualize it. What does the finished product look like? How do you feel about it? How do other people react to it? Maybe it’s made you better as a human being; maybe it’s made you famous.
I imagine, if you’re anything like me – your goal looks complete, and has bettered you as a person. I also imagine that if you’re even remotely like me, your goal has made you better than other people.
As humans, we’re wired to be competitive, status seeking animals. A glance through recent fashion trends, Instagram or the lives of the privileged reveals that almost all of us (despite some exceptions), want to be better than others. We want to appear, on some level, like we have something the others don’t – that we have transcended the universal condition of human frailty.
As a species, we like to put ourselves above our own kind. Beyond discrimination of race or gender – we simply enjoy having more than our neighbors.
We are narcissistic by design.
This is why, when we conceive of our goals – we inevitably conceive of the outcome. We focus on having the thing we want that allows us to be better. And depending on our relationship with ourselves; it can be a vision of success or a vision of failure.
I imagine, like me, you’ve been told that if you focus on failure you’re doomed, but if you focus on success, well then you’re a winner. You succeed or you fail. You’re a winner or a loser. It’s a simple binary choice.
Except it isn’t.
The way we perceive our goals designs their own failure. When we focus on an outcome, we unwittingly invite our own demise.
RESULTING IN FAILURE
A thought experiment:
Imagine that you are focused on the outcome of getting laid with women. You would probably, I imagine:
Go out. Talk to them. Ask them out. Be persistent. Be physical. Seal the deal.
I would imagine this would net you results. You would probably develop a technique or style that fit for this situation. These results would, I imagine increase your confidence, which would likely increase your results further.
So focusing on the outcome doesn’t sound too bad, right?
Well, not exactly.
I want you to hold that thought experiment in your mind, now I want to you to consider if you became less attractive through aging or accident, if you suddenly got fired, if you had a breakup or some kind of emotional trauma that wounded your self-belief – I want you to imagine if something were to damage or sway that focus on the outcome.
You would probably go out less. You would probably talk to fewer women. You would certainly ask them out less. Persistence would fade away. Physicality would fall away to self-doubt. And you’d probably end up empty-handed.
I would imagine this would mean your results would decrease. You would probably question your ability, which would lead to even further decreased results, and a tumbling, dwindling self-belief.
Doesn’t really sound that great, does it?
Now, this example could be used to describe an aspiring artist, writer, entrepreneur, model or athlete. It could be used to describe anyone. The common fault is the same.
In the thought experiment, you inadvertently engaged in a process because you were focused on an outcome of success, and that process (talking to women, asking them out) resulted in success, that further reinforced your belief and your focus.
However, when something affected your focus or your success, made you question it, you stopped inadvertently engaging in the process – and your results dwindled.
In each scenario, it wasn’t the focus on success that counted, it was the fact you engaged with the process. The more or less you engaged, the more or less you got your results.
Whether you focus on a successful outcome or a failed outcome is irrelevant – all that matters is whether you engage in the process. When you engage, the outcome takes care of itself.
This focus on the outcome is, in a nutshell, one of the hallmarks of poor personal development advice.
“Believe in yourself”
“You’ve just got to want it”
All of these statements do not result in any outcome you desire, they simply hold a possible influence in your choice to decide to engage in the process. It isn’t the focus on the outcome that got you there, the focus on the outcome just happened to lead you into the process.
You could lack confidence, not believe in yourself, and question how much you really want your goal – but if you engaged in the process, you would get the outcome you initially desired.
Want to write a book? Write words on pages.
Want to build a business? Develop a client base, sell them a product.
Want to have a great dating life? Talk to women, and make a move.
Want to become an actor? Work on your craft, and make sure that casting agents are aware of you.
In none of those examples do you need to believe in yourself, focus on your outcome or be confident. You simply need to engage in the steps that determine the likelihood of your outcome being achieved. It’s not about knowing you can get the outcome, or knowing you can’t – that is irrelevant information. It’s about figuring out what the outcome requires, and implementing that through a process.
40% paddling. 60% being in the ocean in the first place.
THE PROCESS OF FOCUS
I believe that we tell others to focus on the end result, i.e. success because after achieving our goals we have the tendency to overestimate what it was that got us there. We often, for egotistical reasons, like to cite traits about ourselves, often innate, that set us on the path to success.
I argue that these innate traits are at once incidental, not necessary and also leave your goal enormously vulnerable and exposed.
Confidence, self-belief, desire, hunger, passion and will are all elements of the emotional spectrum, and as such are susceptible to fluctuations, changes, and transformations. These are all drivers, for better or worse, from our irrational mind. They can be with us, or against us – and trying to control them is exhausting. Some days you just won’t feel like it, won’t be in the zone, you’ll doubt yourself, maybe even question whether you deserve whatever it is you want.
And because of this doubt, you start to believe that you lack whatever ‘innate’ traits those who are successful have.
Don’t trust yourself, trust the process. You are an irrational, emotional human being, who is, like all human beings, prone to failure, self-doubt, and weakness. When you depend on something – an emotion or motivation – to engage with the process, you unwittingly subject that engagement to vulnerability. Or in other words, you actively invite failure into your life.
But the process? Doing the necessary steps that ensure the likelihood of achieving the outcome. That’s just logical. And it isn’t vulnerable to our flaws.
You either do it or don’t.
The secret at the heart of strong goal setting is accepting the fact that you do not know. You don’t know whether you’ll become an actor, an author or an athlete. You don’t know whether your business idea will succeed or your dating life will improve. You don’t know whether you have the traits to succeed, and in fact, you don’t know whether they even exist in the first place.
When you pursue a goal, you pursue the unknown. It’s an experiment in cause and affect; an attention to action and reaction. Does writing more make me more likely to be a novelist? If so, how much writing? Does leaving my business idea unexposed protect it, or does it leave it vulnerable, through lack of feedback, to the assumption that people actually want what I’m peddling?
A hallmark of intelligence isn’t being certain that you’re right, but instead distrusting everything, questioning everything, including yourself.
We don’t know what it takes to achieve our goals, we don’t know whether we have what it takes and we don’t know, really, if we even want them, rather than want the prestige that comes with their accomplishments.
And guess what, it doesn’t matter.
It’s not about knowing. It’s about doing. Trying new things, paying attention to what works. Looking at the steps taken by others, and breaking down problems logically into inputs and outputs – which result in your process.
STOP MAKING THIS ABOUT YOU
When you tell yourself you’re going to achieve something because you ARE something (i.e. a winner), what happens when you don’t achieve that thing?
What does that say about you? What does that bring into question about your abilities? If people achieve things because they ARE a certain way, does it mean that you don’t have what it takes?
Does it mean that you are, at the core, inferior?
Well, are you?
Outcome-based focus is vulnerable to outcome-based feedback. And this vulnerability is quadrupled when coupled with our sense of self. You’re not just inviting failure into your goal, but you’re inviting a wound to your sense of self-worth.
A wound that never, ever needed to be dealt in the first place.
I believe that we couple the idea of success with our identity because of that innate human desire to appear like we’re better than others. We want to believe that we achieved what we achieved, due to our superiority – and more importantly, we want others to believe that too.
Everyone’s climbing the ladder, and we want others to feel we’re the better climber.
This mindset is toxic.
Beyond how it views your fellow man, it is, at its root damaging to yourself.
You are not your goals. The achievement of your goal has nothing to do with who or what you are, but instead to do with the actions you take. You are not your goals. You are the process you engage with. Failure is part of this process. Process-based goals are enhanced by outcome-based feedback. When we fail, the response isn’t ‘I am incapable’, it is ‘what did I do wrong, how can improve?’
Don’t keep putting more energy into bad processes, revamp the processes, improve them, focus on the elements that matter – the ones that influence your outcome. This, and this alone is how you improve.
Certainty is not your friend. Certainty is going to make you inflexible, it is going to tell you what to do, rather than opening your eyes to what the goal requires. Certainty is going to tell you what you are – good or bad, based on your outcome. Fuck Certainty. Especially when it comes to yourself. Keep your mind open and flexible, focus on the processes that create and influence the likelihood of achieving your goal.
Keep your mind open and flexible, and focus on the processes that create and influence the likelihood of achieving your goal. Your worth is not tied to outcomes, and it never was. You are the result of the processes you engage with.
So next time you feel like a failure, next time you feel like you don’t have what it takes and you can’t achieve what you want to achieve. Ask yourself this:
Are you doing the necessary inputs to ensure your outputs? Or are you riding on emotion? Have you really engaged with the process…
Or have you not even tried?