We all know about goal setting and driving toward results: It’s the way of the winner according to many self-help guides and productivity gurus. Whether we want to eat healthier, exercise more, or finish that novel we’ve been laboring over, we push ourselves toward the big payoff we envision. Relentlessly focusing on results is the path to success, we’ve been assured.
But is it, really? Are results really that powerful a motivator? Or, paradoxically, can a single-minded focus on our goals actually rob us of motivation — of the will to go on, when things get tough — as they always do on the way to anything worth working toward. In an intriguing survey of high achievers in Europe, Roy Baumeister, a leading researcher on the science of will power, found that one key to their accomplishments is that they focused on the process of getting where they wanted to go — on the means rather than the end — and on maintaining a consistent level of effort.
If you think about it, this makes great sense. When you identify success with a specific goal, you instantly run into a major roadblock: Factors beyond your control are likely to have a huge impact on your results.
Say you want to run a marathon; a host of outside factors may affect your training schedule: Injuries can sideline you or family matters may consume more time than you expected. The same can be true of a major writing goal you’ve set for yourself.
The bottom line: If you focus on results-driven goals, even if you do everything right within your power, you can still fall short of the results you want because of external factors that blindside you. When this happens — the result you’ve been aiming for can begin to recede and your will power — and motivation — can fade as well, leaving you feeling discouraged or even defeated.
What to do, what to do? You can short circuit or actually bypass this cycle of non-completion with one simple decision: Simply shift your focus from being results-oriented to being process-oriented.This puts your attention squarely on what you can control: your process and level of effort. You can’t ensure that you will compete in a marathon, for example, but you can control the effort that you put into your training.
The takeaway for us as writers: By all means, let’s use desired results to set ourselves on a path to completion, but then let’s release the outcome and put our energy into focusing on the process and effort needed to get us where we want to go. This simple shift will help you maintain momentum and motivation — and steadily improve day by day. What a simple, but powerful strategy for success! It’s one we can all embrace as we write on.