In the photo above, four Punk Ropers are playing a game called Triangle Tag. Emanuel in orange is trying to use his quickness and agility to tag Elizabeth (in the blue top with grey pants) while Elena and Seitu do their best to “protect” her. While everyone is working hard I sincerely doubt any of them could care less about the outcome of the game and yet an obsession with outcomes—the bottom line, the result, the net profit, the win, the reward, etc.—dominate contemporary Western society. Maybe there’s a better way. Our friend Leo Babauta who pens the blog Zen Habits offers some alternative thinking.
Let’s say you’re starting a new jump rope or HIIT program and you feel doubt about whether or not you can stick to it, so you’re tensely doing everything you can to make sure it will turn out the way you hope.
The stress, fear, doubt and tension come from an attachment to the outcome. We want to lose weight, look great, and get fit—the results of the exercise—and have everyone think we’re wonderful.
But perhaps we could acknowledge that:
The outcome isn’t always fully in our control.
Sometimes other people get in the way or unintentionally sabotage a project, sometimes things happen that we didn’t expect, sometimes despite our best efforts things just turn out differently than we pictured in our heads. Perhaps the park where we planned on jumping rope is unexpectedly closed for renovations or our boot camp instructor moves to Thailand or the temperature soars into the high 90s for weeks on end.
There are multiple outcomes that will be okay, if not great.
For example, maybe we won’t get six-pack abs or finish the marathon we’re training for, but we might get healthier despite not meeting our desired goal. Maybe we’ll enjoy the exercise for its own sake and maybe we’ll like the people we train with, and maybe we’ll enjoy exercising outdoors. We might learn that the outcome we hoped for and possibly expected isn’t the only one we can be happy with. Sometimes the actual outcome will be better than we hoped for, if we’re open to it.
Focusing on the outcome is detrimental.
It causes us to stress out, to enjoy the process less, and sometimes leads us to quit before we start since we may think we don’t have a chance of getting the desired outcome. We give up on aiming for 50 push-ups in a minute because we can’t even do 10 in an hour. But how will you ever improve at push-ups if you give up on them right off the bat? Focusing on the outcome also causes us to be disappointed with the result when it’s not what we want and we may end up disappointed in ourselves when we don’t live up to our own expectations. We walk away from the experience feeling that we’re not enough or that others are not enough.
Letting go of our attachment to the outcome is freeing.
Letting go helps us to be more present with the doing, the being, the act itself, rather than what might come in the future. It can help us have better relationships, because we’re more focused on the people than the goal. It can help us have a better relationship to ourselves, as we focus on our own well-being and contentment, rather than some external source of possible happiness (spoiler: happiness doesn’t come from external things).
Instead of focusing on the outcome try focusing on:
The intention. That is the mindset that you hope to bring to the task rather than what you hope to get out of it. So as you’re attempting that next set of push-ups consider being present during the movement rather than worrying about how you want your triceps to look in the future.
The effort. Instead of worrying about the result of doing all those push-ups, pay attention to how focused you are on them and how much effort you’re putting into each rep as well as how mindful you are. How much of your heart are you putting into the exercise? How much love and care are you giving them?
The process. The outcome is a result of the process — if you’re not getting the outcome you want, focus on improving the process. How much care are you taking as you do it? How can you step up your game? Pay attention to how you’re doing things rather than focusing so much on the result.
The moment. What is beautiful about this particular moment, as you perform your push-ups? What do you notice? Is your dominant side taking over? Can you feel all the muscles working in unison? Can you be curious as you perform the act rather than having a fixed mindset? What is there to appreciate about yourself and everything around you, right now
Relationships. When you’re focused on the outcome, you often disregard the feelings of the people you’re working with including your teammates and coaches. You might even snap at them when they’re not doing things the way you’d like. Instead, you can focus on your connection with them, on finding ways to make them enjoy the process more, on being loving or compassionate.
Feel free to share your experience with us if you decide to attempt letting go of the outcome. Think about what is beautiful about this moment. Can you have fun with the effort? Try being more loving to yourself and others. Doing so transforms every act, every habit, every project, and every moment with others.