Stop Focusing on Goals, Focus on Process Instead
We all know how to set goals. We do it all the time in our personal and professional lives. The start of a new year is a typically compelling time to declare our intentions and work on getting our homes in order. A new year pulls from the past dusty old dreams and wipes them clean giving them renewed hope and an opportunity to shine once again. As a new year dawns, old sins are washed away and a better, more committed version of us emerges. We commit – this will be the year we see our dreams come true!
And then February comes around, and we’re back where we started.
First, imagine this –
You’re on a mountain. This mountain represents who and where you are in life now. It’s your habits of thought, emotions, and behavior. It’s your current set of circumstances. It’s what you know and what you don’t know, your skills, your resources.
Now imagine in the distance another mountain. That mountain represents where you want to be. It’s your goal.
How do you get from this mountain to that mountain?
The answer is definitely not by focusing on the other mountain.
If you focus on the other mountain, you’ll only see the obstacles that stand between you and that mountain – the obstructions, the lack of resources, the fear. This is a very draining, low energy, negative space to live in. It keeps you in a perpetual state of pain and distress as you’re constantly reminded of the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Maintaining high levels of motivation become more and more difficult and, for many, you eventually run out of gas.
This is what typically happens when people set New Year’s resolutions.
So what, then?
Instead of the goal, what should consume our focus is the process – the how. In the mountain scenario that would be identifying available resources and focusing on how best to use those resources to execute a plan that gets you to the other mountain. In our lives, the process means developing and enhancing systems of habit – both mental and behavioral – that allow us to take the greatest advantage of circumstance and opportunity, consistently over time, until our goal is reached. The goal is important, it’s just not what should hold our focus. Instead, the goal should serve as a directional force, guiding us down a certain path, like a compass. Once we know where we’re headed, we should embrace the here and now and focus on developing better systems of thought and execution.
Placing our full attention on process is the more effective way to realize our goals. It also provides a host of additional benefits…
Embracing the process gives us greater access to our inner resources. It gives insight and allows us to recognize opportunities more readily. When we’re too focused on the goal, it can blind us to other options and possibilities. When we embody the process instead, there’s a greater awareness that allows us to better notice the unique and hidden opportunities that may exist in any given situation.
Focusing on the process frees us from self-judgement. No longer is our measure of success the gap between our goal and our current state. Instead, our measure of success is based on our progress, our growth. This type of feedback promotes encouragement. The more success we see in our efforts, the more motivated we are to continue.
Focusing on the process feeds our need for continuous growth. The happiness we imagine for ourselves upon the completion of a goal is a bit of an illusion. Though we think so, it’s not the goal that brings fulfillment and joy, it’s the experience of growth that does that. This is why success can feel so fleeting unless we set new challenges. We can prove this to ourselves by simply recalling past accomplishments. What was most memorable? What were our fondest recollections? Most of us would find those answers somewhere along the journey, in the thick of the process. Knowing this we should do our best to embrace the day-to-day. Learn to love the process, not just in retrospect, but in the moment.
Goals are helpful, but it’s important to place them in their proper role. A steady focus on goals can generate feelings of lack and inadequacy over time. As we encounter obstacles, those feelings are amplified, and our motivation steadily wanes. Attention to process, however, is a wholly different experience – one that celebrates growth. It’s restorative and provides both feedback and encouragement. It keeps us accountable to conditions within our control, and it highlights progress.
One of the most important factors in achieving success in any area is seeing ourselves as successful. Placing focus on, and committing to process allows us to live in a space that provides countless opportunities for us to bear witness to the beauty of our own transformation. Independent of our ultimate destination we can recognize and appreciate the significance of the moment, now. And not only after we’ve reached our goal.