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Don’t get too focused on results

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.  

Don’t get too focused on results

Scott Miker

Since it is the beginning of the year we can start to see all sorts of signs that the majority of people want to change and improve their lives.  They set New Years resolutions and promise that this year will be the year they see the results they crave.

Results are usually the measuring stick that we all use.  If we start working out to lose weight we want to see the number on the scale decrease over time.  We don’t want to set out to lose weight and gain weight instead.

Because this is so obvious it brings us to a problem. The problem is that in order to see results we often have to do something for a long time, not just sacrifice something for a short time. 

A new diet won’t lower your weight overnight.  I new budget won’t pay off all your credit debt by the weekend.  A new desire to start connecting with your spouse on a more intimate level won’t improve the relationship in a day. 

But because we are all so focused on the outcome, we focus our attention on the end result.  Since that is the motivation that convinced us to act, we want to reinforce that motivation by showing that the new behavior changes are working immediately to help keep motivation high.    

Unfortunately this causes us to need results sooner than can be expected.  It will usually take significantly longer to start to see the fruits of our labor than what we anticipate in the early stages. 

When we don’t see the results, our motivation crumbles and we eventually quit any new attempt and fall back on all our old powerful habits.  Our willpower disappears and we forget how important we thought it was to change. 

Years ago I learned this lesson the hard way.  I tried to improve several areas of my life but regardless of what or how I tried I always failed.  Weight loss, personal finance, career, etc. all seemed to be outside of my control.  It was a cycle of starting and failing, starting and failing. 

But the problem wasn’t that these areas were outside of my control.  I had control over them but had no way to gain that control and use it to help me change. 

So I started to change the way I approached improvement.  I stopped focusing so much on results and started to focus on what I was actually doing to see those results.

This changed a couple important things.  First I focused more on what I was doing than on the outcome.  This allowed me to continue to do things that I knew would help me achieve my goal.  The proof wasn’t in the instant success but in the inner knowledge that if I kept doing X then I would have to see results.

For example, I didn’t get discouraged when the number on the scale rose slightly, instead of focused on the fact that I exercised every day that week.  I knew that I was making progress even if the scale was reflecting that fact. 

If we start eating much healthier than we do now, and we do that for years, we will see results.  If we start exercising every day we will start to see results in time.  If we budget our money and keep improving the way we manage our finances we will see an improvement.  It won’t be instant but will certainly improve at some point. 

Since I started focusing on the steps I would take instead of the final outcome that I hoped would come, I shifted from focusing on trying to be perfect right away, to simply making progress.

Making progress simply means that we keep going and keep improving.  If we do this then success will follow.  If we focus too much on trying to be perfect or find the perfect solution we will jump from one thing to the next wanting to see a perfect result right away. 

By changing the way I approached improvement, I started to change the way I improved.  I would do more and expect less.  This would help me continue to fine-tune the process and steps and do more and more. 

Then, once these new behaviors started to become habit, it became easier and easier to keep going.  Then I saw results.  But it wasn’t until I changed my habits that any result mattered.  So until I got to that point my focus was on making progress with the process.  That ended up becoming the formula for improvement that I now use in almost every aspect of my life. 

If you are setting a new resolution this year, change from expecting instant results to simply be on continuing to do something new towards your goal.  Keeping focused on the behaviors and actions that need to change will be more motivating that having unrealistic expectations around the results.