May 25, 2010

Forget Vision - It's all About the Process

There is a rule of thumb at my company when forecasting large projects. It says that whatever one has budgeted for time and money, add at least another 30% on top of it. That’s just the reality of most complex projects – they almost always take longer and cost more than what we think at the onset.

I have found this to be true. That huge real estate deal that was supposed to close in nine months? It took over a year. The acquisition that I told the Board of Directors would be snagged within six months? It was more like 18. And that personal goal I set for reaching 1,000 page views per day on my blog? Despite the apparent success of just about every other blogger on the internet, nine months later I’ve barely coughed up one-tenth of that.  

Well, what did I expect?

Anything worthwhile that we set out to accomplish is probably going to require much more effort and time than we originally anticipate. Which is why consultants, sages and motivational experts throughout the ages have advised us to set a grand, compelling Vision - and then hold on to it tightly! Because it will be the only thing to keep you slogging through the living hell of getting there.

Being stuck in the limbo of pushing a big rock up a hill can be wearing. Especially when the days string into weeks and months, or even years without seeing the results you were hoping for.  Who wants to wait around five years for a promotion? Or seven years for your company to start turning a profit? Or twelve years to get your book published? Especially when there are no guarantees that you will end up where you wanted anyway? 

Focusing too much on the end result, or lack thereof, can make us frustrated, irritable and unhappy. It's just so much work!

Which, ironically, is the point. If reaching your awesome grand vision will take so long and be so difficult, why not at least enjoy the ride?

In fact, you should just forget about that big Vision.

That’s right, stop thinking so much about where you want to end up in the future. I know that flies in the face of just about every piece of self-help and strategy advice out there today, but a growing body of research is revealing that if we really want to live happy, productive and meaningful lives, then the secret is to focus on the process, not the outcome.  

Many of the most successful entrepreneurs never had a big vision to begin with. They just worked with what was in front of them because they were interested in what they were doing. You can probably achieve almost anything, eventually, as long as you enjoy trying to achieve it. Which, by the way, is very different from the actual achievement itself. One of my favorite Woody Allen quotes says, “80% of success is just showing up.” Showing up every day and doing your work is like practice, and you are much more likely to be successful if you take pleasure in the practice itself, regardless of the end result.  

Psychologist Milay Csikszentmihalyi has built a career around the study of deriving intrinsic pleasure from the practice of an activity. He calls it “Flow.” It is the mental state in which one becomes fully immersed in a task or activity, accompanied by feelings of energized focus, spontaneous joy, and emotional alignment with the process. Whether it is writing, or running a meeting, or performing surgery, when one reaches the state of flow, time seems to stop ticking and there is a complete loss of awareness of what else is going on around you. It’s almost as if you are at one with the work itself.

Csikszentmihalyi’s research supports the notion that people who can focus on mastering the smaller, incremental tasks before them (rather than anguishing over hard-to-reach long-term goals) more often achieve that state of flow. It implies that true fulfillment comes from the steps one takes towards attaining a goal, not actually reaching it. Rather than driving yourself bonkers trying to control the outcome, Csikszentmihalyi suggests:

What matters is doing one’s best for the sake of the task at hand, and having confidence that the best will be enough to prevail.”

Sounds a lot like grace.

So stop freaking out about when you are going to get there, wherever “there” is for you, and take a good look at what is right in front of you.

Because you are here.

And here is here.

Here is now. 

You know what? Instead of obsessing over my blog stats, I’m just going to enjoy the writing, the exchange of ideas, and the wonderful community that comes from blogging, and forget about hitting some audacious goal that I'm far too lazy to achieve anyway. The blogging in and of itself provides more than enough joy to last a very long time, wherever it takes me. 

And- hey! It's already 10:00? How'd that happen?

Post by Bradley J. Moore.

Photograph by Vanda. Used with permission.

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