Focusing on process to achieve outcome

A while back I decided I wanted to learn how to juggle. I had wanted to since middle school but had been unable to do it. Even the book Juggling for the Complete Klutz did not help at all. I would try and fail, and try their tips and fail, and try again and fail. The desire to figure this one out lay dormant for many years, and then on the verge of my 40th birthday I decided to give it one more try. I asked my team if any of them knew how to juggle, and if they would be willing to coach me. I promised to juggle in front of the whole department at a staff meeting if I was successful, with credit to the coach. John, one of my direct reports, stepped up. He was a fantastic coach – he would pop in to my office 2 or 3 times a week, watch me for a few minutes, and then give me just one or two things to work on.

But I remained very frustrated, unable to keep the balls in the air beyond the first 2 tosses. It was driving me nuts, the same problem I had always had. I was focusing on the outcome – my goal was to be able to keep 3 balls in the air for at least 7 tosses. And I would fail, again and again.  Then something shifted. I can’t remember if it was John’s idea or mine, but I realized that I was focusing on the wrong thing. I had no control over whether I could juggle. But I could control how much I practiced. I changed my goal to practicing 10 min a day, regardless of how many times I dropped the balls. That small shift changed everything about my experience. As long as I put in my 10 min, I was no longer a failure. I relaxed into the process. And then, within 6 weeks (yes, it really took that long!) I could keep 3 balls in the air past a count of 10.

I had learned a lot more than how to juggle. I had discovered the power of focusing on process measures you are trying to achieve. Turns out you can’t influence outcome directly (at least most of the time) – you have to get there through some process over which you do have control. That learning is serving me now, as I seek my next position. It is still very challenging – I have a clear idea of my desired outcome, but I have no direct control over when, or even whether, I will attain my goal. All I can do is focus on the search process, show up in my life every day to do my part through action (thanks, Jeffrey, for that sage counsel), practice trust, and be patient. Some days I find it relatively easy to do that and I find joy in the process. Other days I find that trust and patience take real effort. It is a daily practice.

I am not waiting, I am just here.

Mooji, as shared with me by Grace Bell

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7 Responses to Focusing on process to achieve outcome

  1. Murray Trelease says:

    You’ve been hiding your light under a bushel. I’ve never seen you juggle. Demo please

  2. Laura McMillan says:

    What a great illustrative story!

  3. Betsy says:

    Do the thing you can do and trust the process with no attachment to the outcome. Exactly.

  4. Grace Bell says:

    Love it. Reminds me of Outliers principle; 10,000 hours leads to great skill, brilliant outcome, like the Beatles who wound up playing together constantly in little bars in Germany. And look what can be done with 10 minutes a day, wonderful!

  5. Karl Hoover says:

    Refreshing post – thanks for the share!

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