The Folly of Chasing Results

Everyone wants the best results. But aiming for them is folly. Here’s why.

Results are the result of a process.

To truly aim for a result is to aim for a process that leads to it. But when people aim for results, they tend to focus on the result more than the process, interfering with actually getting the result they want.

How does daydreaming about a six pack help you work out? Sure, it can provide motivation, perhaps even during exercise. But you’re always better off mastering the workout routines and lifestyle that will lead to that result. The dark side of result chasing is doubt and discouragement.

People think results can motivate them, but results are just as likely to discourage and demotivate us. When eyeing a result, it’s easy to think thoughts like: “Do I have what it takes to get there? If so, why aren’t I there yet?”

Results are more intimidating than what it takes to get them.

I visited Kotor, Montenegro last month. It’s a very mountainous country, and there is a popular hike up to St. John’s castle that I planned on doing. I accidentally went on a different path, which took me straight up a mountain. It took me two hours to reach the top, and I was drenched in sweat when I reached the top.

Looking back, I would have never attempted to climb the mountain if I had known how strenuous it would be. Not only that, but I could have simply looked at the mountain from below to know I wouldn’t want to attempt it. I’m pretty fit, but I had quite a few drinks the night before and wasn’t exactly prepared to ascend a mountain.

When I realized I was on a longer hike than expected, I was intrigued by the challenge, but also intimidated. So I stopped thinking about the result and started thinking small. I focused on what I could do (keep going) instead of what I thought I could not do (climb the mountain). One step at a time. It worked, and I reached the top.

It was a satisfying result, but one that I would not have achieved by aiming for directly. I proved that it was doable, but it seemed impossible at times. I knew that I could absolutely physically do it, but that’s not the battle, is it? Mentally, I wanted to quit. Mentally, I knew I could do something more fun. Mentally, I gave myself excuses, some of them valid (I didn’t bring enough water).

Right now, think about your biggest accomplishment(s) in life. Was it easy? Was the path to get there simple and straightforward? There will be many adventures in our lives that we’d never undertake if we knew the cost and struggle required, but these are the most satisfying mountains to conquer!

After every book I write, I’m usually like, “Two years of work? That took way too long and was so much harder than I wanted it to be.” But then I have a completed book to be proud of. At that point, the cost doesn’t really matter. At that point, even the greatest struggles feel worth it. They magnify the accomplishment all the more.

Results are not guaranteed.

Say you disagree with everything I’ve said so far. You know you can eye a result that inspires you, put in the work, and get it. But what if you don’t get it? Many results are not up to us.

I put in the work to get a college degree so that I could get a job. Nobody hired me.

Countless athletes pour their heart and soul into their sports at the Olympics, training for years. Most of them do not and will not ever get an Olympic medal, let alone a gold one.

Everyone wants financial success. The number one cause of bankruptcy is healthcare expenses, not something people can control.

In each case, you could say that a person “failed,” but does it make sense? If five people try their best, and only one succeeds, the others didn’t fail, they just didn’t get the rare result that they wanted.

If you focus on getting specific results, it can crush you. It can cause you to question what’s wrong with you.

There is a story circulating the interwebz—I don’t know if it’s true—about Michael Jordan ruining Muggsy Bogues’ career with a single line of trash talk. Muggsy Bogues was 5′ 3″, the shortest ever NBA basketball player. But he enjoyed a productive NBA career. The story goes that during a playoff game, Jordan shouts at Muggsy, “Shoot the ball, you F***ing midget.” And then Muggsy misses the shot and is never the same.

Regardless of if this story is true or not, it belies the danger of chasing results. Muggsy Bogues, a career 45.8% shooter, made and missed a lot of shots in his career. To put the weight of his career and confidence on the outcome of one shot just because he was challenged by Michael Jordan wouldn’t make any sense. He’s human, so it’s possible, but you can see the mathematical folly in doing so.

Bogues made a little less than half of his shot attempts. Missing the Jordan shot wasn’t a big deal. But if it made him question his legitimacy as a basketball player, it’s a huge deal. This is the danger of focusing on results. It makes you put too much emphasis on the outcome of one shot (moment) when you have an entire career (life). Allow yourself to miss sometimes, and instead focus on doing the things (processes) that will generate more success in the long-term.

The Superiority of the Process

If life is good at one thing, it’s disrupting plans. We’ve got to be flexible to succeed, and result chasing gives you a rigid, all-or-nothing mindset. It’s better to get something when plans are disrupted!

You don’t need to focus on a result to be intentional. They say if you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it, but you can be intentional about processes you control, and that will naturally lead to great results over time.

Look at it this way. Amatuer archers try to hit the bulls-eye. They focus on that result. Professional archers try to hit the bulls-eye too, but that’s the last step in their process. They spend time training for the proper stance, hand placement, draw strength, breathing, trajectory, and release. It’s only once they are in the correct stance with proper form that they focus their attention on hitting the bulls-eye. After the process, bulls-eyes become hittable!

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