The Often Overlooked Danger of Being Too Results Oriented
We hear the benefits of being results oriented all the time. It is important to have goals, to aim high, and to focus on outcomes. But as we have been told since we were kids, too much of a good thing can hurt you.
There are three critical areas that suffer if you are too results oriented:
(1) Your experience
(2) Your performance
(3) Your sustainability
Let’s start with your experience.
When my kids were young, they loved writing stories. As a family, we’d go on long road trips and by the time we reached our destination, they had woven delightful tales with colorful characters and loads of drama.
But at school, when they were given the assignment to write a story, they were not all that happy. Suddenly someone was making them do it and grading their performance. The writing was no longer an activity they had chosen for themselves. Their attention had shifted from doing the writing for the sheer joy of it to doing it for the benefit of a grade.
What does a child’s writing assignment have to do with your experience?
Most of us chose our professions as a matter of preference, because they were aligned with something we had interest in or a passion for. But when we become more fixated on the paycheck than on the work itself, the work can become a bit of a drudge.
Even smaller activities like projects can become laborious when you put more weight on achieving a desired outcome than on the process of doing the work itself.
But if you stop caring about results, how will you ever achieve anything?
The problem isn’t your desire to achieve results. The difficulty arises when you attach those results to your state of well being. Suddenly whatever you are doing becomes a means to an end. An end you feel you simply must achieve to avoid pain and achieve pleasure.
When the stakes become too high, the joy of doing the work itself gets sucked out of the process. And so do you. Your focus is no longer on immersing yourself into the work and enjoying each step, but rather on making sure you can achieve the outcome you believe your happiness depends on.
When you place your happiness on achieving some future state instead of enjoying where you are and what you are doing right now, you will never be truly happy. And your work will not only be less than fulfilling, the results of it will also be less than optimal.
This leads us to the second problem with being too results oriented.
The irony of being too focused on results is that you are less likely to get good results.
When you go from pouring your attention and energy into the process to simply achieving an outcome, whatever you are working on is missing one very key ingredient: YOU.
If all you care about is achieving the goal, your mind is on some future state. This means you yourself are not fully present and engaged. And when you are not fully present and engaged, the quality of care and love that you would otherwise pour into your work is simply not there.
The result is crappy products/services and poor performance.
You will not tap into the same level of creativity. You will not make the same connections. You will forget about whoever is the end user or beneficiary of the work you are doing when your focus is more on what you have to gain than anything else.
This is like trying to play tennis by focusing your gaze on where you want the ball to go instead of looking at the ball itself. You will likely miss the shot every time.
And when you don’t get the results you so desperately desire, you will begin to have trouble in the third area that suffers when you are too results oriented: sustainability.
What does sustainability have to do with performance and results?
Sustainability is simply your ability to stay with something long enough to experience a return on your investment of time, energy and effort. It’s what allows you to stick with the plan you have outlined that will ultimately allow you to achieve your goals.
Sustainability is important because without it, you never gain momentum
Momentum is what allows you to go from starting something, to making progress, to achieving a desired result, to excelling at achieving a desired result. When you are too results oriented, you risk falling into the trap of judging your performance based on what you are able to achieve right out of the chute. And most people don’t perform very well when they first start something.
Expecting results without momentum is the curse of the perfectionist.
The perfectionist wants to begin everything at the same level of proficiency that a master would achieve. They compare their results to those attained by people who have spent years of their lives practicing. And they fail to recognize that people who are masterful began their crafts making mistakes, looking foolish, and getting less than desirable results.
So they quit. They never allow themselves that crucial period of trying something, getting it wrong, making small adjustments and trying again. And again. And again.
They reason they were never cut out for that kind of work. And they cheat themselves of the sweetness of achieving results they could have enjoyed if they would have just stuck with it.
But you don’t get rewarded for effort — only results, right?
It’s true that most companies don’t reward people a whole lot for the effort they put into something unless they reach their goals. But you will never achieve your goals if you do not apply sustained effort. The effort ends up rewarding you. And the reward is results that are not only high quality and long lasting, but also deeply gratifying.
It is possible to be too results oriented. And when that happens, three primary areas will suffer
(1) Your experience. Being too results oriented sucks the joy out of your work and leads to increased levels of stress and anxiety. When you equate a desired outcome with your state of well being, the stakes become too high and you will fail to enjoy the journey that leads to your ultimate destination. Work becomes a grind and the quality of your life will suffer.
(2) Your performance. The irony of being too focused on results is that you are less likely to get good results. When your energy and attention goes to some future state, you will vacate yourself from the present. This negatively impacts your creativity and the special touch only you can bring to your work, resulting in crappy products/services and poor performance.
(3) Your sustainability. When you judge your success based on getting stellar results out of the chute, you will experience frustration and a feeling of inadequacy that may lead you to abandon your efforts altogether. Great results require great sustained effort and momentum. This can only be achieved with repeated practice, and the willingness to make mistakes, learn from them and try again and again.
Should you stop caring about results?
Of course not. It’s true that you need to aim high, get clear on the goals you want to achieve and envision what it will be like when you do. But then you need to shift your primary focus from achieving the result to pouring your heart and mind into the process. Your reward will be not only achieving your desired destination, but also enjoying every step along the way.