We are heavily conditioned to favour outcome over process. When we prepare for a race, it’s all about the prize at the end. When we work on a project, it’s all about successful implementation. When we work hard, it’s all about getting that promotion. But here's the problem – the outcome is just a small fraction of the time we spend on completing a task. About 95% or more of the time, we are engaged in the process of getting to the outcome.
Being outcome-focused has many advantages in the business world, such as promoting pragmatism and efficiency, which are very important factors in getting things done – and businesses need this focus to survive. Of course, there are also downsides to an outcome-focus, such as cutting corners, sacrificing quality, and feeling frustrated when things don’t go as smoothly as expected.
While businesses deal with these trade-offs in various ways, having an outcome-focused mindset in our personal lives can have a negative effect on our wellbeing. When we subconsciously focus on the end result of personal activities, we can sacrifice the pleasure we could have enjoyed along the way because we focus only on the fleeting moment of achievement right at the end.
5 Ways to Shift Your Focus
If we shift our mindset to focus on the process, rather than just the achievement itself, we can find enjoyment in many everyday activities. A process-focus is more applicable than what we might expect for our daily routine. Think about these examples, and if they might be useful for you:
Driving in traffic – The outcome is to get to the destination. It’s easy to see how an outcome focus here can lead to frustration due to delays, and even road rage. Now think about taking a process focus. Focus on being a good driver. Focus on your surroundings and paying attention. Focus on taking each little challenge on the road in your stride. Listen to music or talk to a passenger. The composure skills you build here will flow through to all areas of your life.
Preparing food – The outcome is a meal. But if that’s all you are focused on, then it’s easy to get frustrated with having to make food - all the chopping and stirring and adjusting seasonings - so that you eventually forgo the process and just get takeout instead. After all, the outcome is still a meal, right? A process focus means appreciating the preparation process itself. Perhaps through taking more care with how you make the food and what you put in, such as changing ingredients or making different side dishes. Or by aiming to prepare the food a little bit better each time. That way you’ll become far less tempted to get takeout, and you’ll look forward to cooking.
Family & friends – This is an important one. The outcome might be to have had dinner with the family, or reach some destination with friends, but this should not be the only goal. For example, over Easter I went hiking with friends. Shortly after we began the hike, there was an opportunity for us to take a short detour to a lookout point. Most of the people in the group marched right past the lookout and onwards to the finish line. But I said, “No, I’m going to the lookout first” and the views were amazing, which made the hike that much more memorable. How often do we rush time with our friends and family? A focus on the process means valuing and enjoying the time you have together, rather than just being concerned with a particular outcome, such as ticking off catching up with a group of people.
Learning – When studying, the outcome is to get a good grade. But are you really learning something? Are you actually integrating and applying the knowledge you are gaining? Studying should not be about cramming the hippocampus with short-term memories so you can pass an exam. Instead, a process-focus is about really thinking through what you are learning, what it means, how it changes your beliefs, and how you can use that knowledge to make some kind of difference.
At work – Outcomes are a big focus in terms of projects, tasks, and deadlines. But only focusing on an outcome can easily lead to frustration as difficulties pop up along the way. After all, these are obstacles holding you back from the outcome! Of course, there’s more to work than just the outcome. There’s value in appreciating the business processes that you are engaged in. You can start to value efficiency, continuous improvement, and excellence. Each time you do a task, it can be a personal challenge and opportunity to find ways to do it better. It might sound clichéd, but this is a powerful way to change your mindset towards work, and find it motivating instead of draining.
Choosing Your Focus
The key is to be able to recognise when a process or an outcome focus is more appropriate. If you have deadlines to meet, keep the outcome in mind. If you are having lunch with a friend, focus on the process. By switching between focuses depending on the situation, you make the most of every moment.
The key is to be able to recognise when a process or an outcome focus is more appropriate.
Of course, there’s always a bit of overlap between these two and a gradient which flows from one to the other. Learning when to switch helps you recognise when you might be applying the wrong focus for the situation. By developing your ability to switch dynamically, you can become more effective when outcomes are needed, and you can enjoy life to its fullest when you’re with friends, family, or just spending time by yourself.