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Nick Saban focuses on the process not on the outcome

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

Nick Saban focuses on the process not on the outcome

Scott Miker

Nick Saban is one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.  His Alabama teams seem to compete for National Championships year in and year out.  His winning teams set the standard for college football excellence.

Yet Saban is much less focused on winning than you might think.  Obviously winning is important.  But, in 1998 he changed his focus from being on the outcome (i.e. winning) to being on the process.  He explains this in a recent interview on ESPN’s College Gameday.  (Currently you can view this interview 7.5 minutes into this video on YouTube)

The turning point for him came in 1998, when his Michigan State team was playing the number 1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.  He says, “Well, to that point, I was probably like a lot of coaches.  The emphasis was always on winning, winning, winning.”

He then talks about his shift in his focus.  “We became very process-oriented for that game and it had nothing to do with the outcome.  But yet we got a pretty resounding outcome.”

He goes on to give some insight into the benefits of shifting from a focus on outcome to a focus on process, “It took some of the anxiety away from the expectation of winning.  So since that time that’s what we’ve tried to adopt.”

Since that time Saban has had success.  He now sits at the top of the college football world and across the country we look at his Alabama teams as the best of the best. 

How can that help us in our everyday life?  We certainly aren’t going out and competing on a national stage in front of millions of people.  Yet, that change in focus can help all of us.

Many people start with goals and motivation that are very outcome-focused.  We want to get a promotion.  We want to lose 20 pounds.  We want to be debt free.  We want better relationships.  We want to be better educated.  We want a new job.  We want to stop smoking. 

All of these are outcomes that we hope to achieve so it makes sense to make that our focus.  But in reality, we have to take it step by step and focus on the process and the things we need to improve first.  It will likely lead to a successful outcome (just as it did for Saban).  But this allows us to focus on the all of the things we need to do, instead of looking past that to focus on what we hope will be the end result.

This is very different from what most people do.  Most people focus so much on the outcome that they miss the key things that they need to do in order to succeed. 

Instead of focusing on eating right, they focus on the perfect beach body they desire.  Instead of focusing on finding a way to fight through the urge to smoke, they focus on someday when they don’t have the urge to smoke. 

Instead of working hard to improve the value they provide to their company and those around them, they crave the additional authority a promotion would bring. 

The reason most people struggle to focus on the process, is because they think that they have to focus on the outcome they want in order to get it.  But that is actually misleading.

Yes we have to know the direction we want to go to make sure we aren’t working in the wrong areas but we can’t ignore the process and the important steps that we have to take.

This is one of the reasons I love the systems and habits approach to improvement so much.  One of the core principles is to focus on the process and taking small steps over and over again to improve.  It values progress over perfection and process over outcome. 

Setting process goals instead of outcome goals can be a great way to break free from the notion that we have to focus solely on the outcome in order to realize it.  This shifts our attention to be on what we have to do in order to succeed, not what the rewards will be if we reach our goal.

The systems and habits approach switches the energy that we use to improve.  Instead of trying to gain motivation from thinking about how great it will be when we succeed, it shifts the energy to be on our automatic, engrained habits.  We form a habit that keeps going regardless of whether we have motivation or not.  So when motivation fades over time, the habit grows more powerful over time.

Nick Saban has had tremendous success.  He continues to win at the highest levels in college football.  Yet his focus isn’t on winning as much as it is on the process.  Take a cue from Saban and change your thinking around goals and improvement to be more on the process than on the outcome.  Then, you too can see what he means when he says by changing from focusing on the outcome to focusing on the process they, “got a pretty resounding outcome.”