I was once told a story by a friend and very well known psychologist from Stanford. He was driving from his home in San Francisco to teach in Palo Alto. He picked up a hitchhiker as he got on the highway and began his 45 minute journey. The young man was pleasant and my friend started a conversation by simply asking where his new passenger was going? The guy was brief and said, “South.” That answer stood for a minute or two when my colleague asked the same question only to get the exact same reply.
Another few minutes passed and the question was repeated at which time the young man said, “Listen I’m going south and that’s all I have planned. I have 7 days off from work so I’m heading south for 3 days and then I’m turning around and heading north to get back home.” The psychologist was surprised by the simplicity of the answer and realized that he and his passenger were talking about the same event but from very different perspectives. The hitchhiker was engaged in a process with really no goal or intended outcome and the psychologist was fixated on figuring out the goal, the outcome his rider was seeking.
Often times we go to work or we go to school or we engage in a set of activities and we are so concerned about the outcome we give little thought or attention to the process. We miss a lot. Think about the times you have really enjoyed your job and I am willing to bet that a good number of those times you were feeling good about what you were doing. Oh sure you very likely accomplished something important but the real point is the sense of satisfaction that lasted over time was not associated with the outcome it was tied to how much you liked the process.
People like me who study work have long noted that we have two types of pleasures that arise from work; one external and one internal. The first is the result of something that comes from someone or something else like a raise, a bonus, and/or praise from another. Internal satisfaction is what you derive from the experience. It tends to be powerful over time, more long-lasting in nature.
When we take time to really appreciate the process what we experience is far more of the internal source of satisfaction. Think back to the last time you really enjoyed what you were doing and you were focused on being in the moment, chances are you will be smiling as you recall that time.
You may be thinking by now, he’s talking about “Taking time to smell the roses.” That’s exactly the point although it extends well beyond the olfactory experience. We all can do better at being in the moment, enjoying what we are doing without reference to what we hope to accomplish at the end of the day.
This past week I had the pleasure of going fishing with some old friends. We were on a beautiful trout stream where the rule is “catch and release.” Not something outcome people find too rewarding. This is a process trip, it always has been. We have been doing this for 21 years. We started with a group of 4 guys and unfortunately one passed away before our trip last year. This was our second trip without Frank. We still miss him. I only mention this because the outcome we wanted, Frank being with us, cannot happen again. This year and last we spent a lot of time talking about the other 19 trips we took together. We celebrated the process we have enjoyed all these years.
Next week I go back to the classroom and I am excited about the process of teaching new students. Oh sure, I want to have positive outcomes, I want my students to learn, I want them to apply what they learn when they get the opportunity and of course I want high teaching ratings, but one thing I have learned over my many years of teaching is that if I enjoy the process, all those outcomes tend to naturally follow.
Stay focused on what you are doing and the way you are doing it and worry less about the outcomes and let them emerge naturally.
Dr. Rick Jacobs is a world-renowned industrial and organizational psychologist with expertise in the intersection between human talent and organizational success. He is professor of psychology at Penn State University and CEO of EB Jacobs a consulting firm specializing in assessment.