Focus on the Process

I’ve got a secret that will help you stay on target academically and at work, even if the world turns upside down, even if a series of failing grades arise , even if job security becomes threatened. This little secret is discussed in stock trading books and in Daniel Kahneman’s new bestseller Noise. It’s a golden rule that top minds espouse as a valuable insight.

The secret is to focus on the process, not the outcome.

Even if you haven’t made a penny after six months of investing in the stock market, don’t dwell on the poor outcome. Focus instead on the process.

It’s six months into my new career and my sales have been lagging. I take comfort that other organizations are having issues selling the exact same product. Maybe it’s COVID. Maybe it’s the product pricing. Maybe it’s me.

Instead of turning into a stressed-out mess, I’m heeding my own wisdom: focus on the process, not the outcome. I spend all day working at my career and all night learning vital skills. In the process, I’m developing a swiftly growing skill set.

It’s natural for people to want to immediately see their goals realized. They don’t realize that any worthwhile goal takes a lot of work—and a lot of errors. Mistakes are a natural part of self-development. But we must not see the blunders—especially when they run rough shod on our self-confidence. Instead, focus on the process.

If you’re focused on the process, you’re stable emotionally and more likely engaging the rational prefrontal cortex area of your brain instead of the emotional amygdala center.

Focusing on the process means you keep trying and keep learning. You are basically trying and learning until you come up with a solution. And you will find the solution if you focus on the process. You are also evaluating actions you’ve taken, doing more of what work and less of what fails.

If you’re focused on the outcome, not the process, you won’t make the biggest gains. And you could lose confidence fast.

An owl patiently waits for its prey and sometimes the owl goes hungry for a day. But it should never let a series of failed meals shake its confidence in its own survival. And the owl likely never thinks that way. It just knows it’s going to be successful, eventually. Like an owl, we must focus on the hunt—the process—in order to be fed.

Similarly, say you buy a lotto ticket as opposed to going to work for eight hours. You’re focused on the outcome, not the process. It’s true that the likelihood of ending life as a millionaire is slim either way, whether you work or buy a lotto ticket. But with work, you learn how to make money. If you focus on the process, not the outcome, you eventually solve the concern of financial need.

As well, a coach can help you successfully focus on the process. So, approach your TA or professors as often as they are available. Hire a tutor. Take online courses. Read books. The process, not the outcome, is where all the learning takes place. For those of us facing poor grades, missed deadlines, or the threat of loss, focus on the process, not the outcome. It’s the process that yields the sweetest success.