Can You REALLY Let Go of the Outcome?

OutcomeI’ve written before on the concept of process versus outcome in achieving sustainable excellence (see Understanding Process & Outcome). As a leader, coach or performer the basic concept is simple. Focus on the task at hand and let the outcomes take care of themselves. I’ve spoken with countless clients about this over the years. But recently, I’ve come to understand this concept more deeply. Although we may believe we are focused on the task at hand there are tell tale signs that indicate otherwise.  Let’s take a look at the signs of truly staying focused on your present performance versus allowing undue focus on outcomes undermine your excellence.

Are You Nervous About The Outcome?

If have have truly embraced the concept of staying in the process you will not be anxious about the outcome. This doesn’t mean you don’t care about the outcome. After all, it’s more fun to win than lose. It’s more fun to get the business deal than be the runner up. It’s more fun to come through in the clutch than to choke. But anxiety about the outcome is your signal that you have not truly remained in the process. This is not to be confused with the adrenaline you feel while performing on a stage that really matters. You need this form of anxiety to perform at your highest level. The adrenaline rush you feel while giving the big speech, playing in the big game or making the final sales pitch is your welcome friend. If the adrenaline you feel while performing becomes anxiety about the outcome after the performance you’ve crossed the line.

Do You Move On To The Next Task?

In sports, outcomes are often immediate. You know at the end of each contest whether you won or lost. In business and other aspects of performance the result is often not so immediate. You have to wait to see if you won the deal, got the promotion after the interview or actually moved your audience to action after your speech.  If you have truly let go of the outcome you move on to the next task while you are waiting for the outcome of your last performance. If you have not truly let go of the outcome you will find yourself often wondering (and worrying) about whether you will win or lose in the end. If you find yourself being distracted by these types of thoughts you’ve moved out of the process of sustainable excellence.

How Do You Feel When You’ve Done All You Can Do?

If you have completely let go of the outcome you feel a sense of peace when you have finished your performance or contribution to the team. You can only feel this sense of peace if you have given your best (which doesn’t mean you made no mistakes). If you have given your best you understand you often cannot control the ultimate outcome. The higher you are on the ladder of performance the more factors you encounter that are beyond your control. If you stay focused on the process of being excellent every day you understand you will win more than you lose over the long haul. You have seen flashes in the pan and the long term consequences of those who take ethical shortcuts to achieve results. A sense of wisdom that comes along with staying focused on the process allows you to prevent any single outcome from determining your destiny. Perhaps the most recent example of this perspective is Phil Mickelson. If Phil did not have the type of perspective I am describing he would not have been able to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss in the US Open to win the next major, the British Open.

Don’t Focus On Outcomes: Are You Crazy?

When performers are initially exposed to this concept of process versus outcome the initial reaction often is: Are You Crazy? If I don’t deliver outcomes I’ll be fired. My boss wants to know my sales numbers every week. My wins and losses are posted online after every game. If this book doesn’t sell I’ve wasted years of my life. The irony of this approach is that if you focus on the process of sustainable excellence your outcomes will be amazing. I’m not saying outcomes don’t matter. What I’ve seen over many years in dealing with peak performers is they understand how to stay focused on the task at hand in order to deliver outcomes, rather than letting an unbridled focus on outcomes determine their day-to-day behavior. The latter approach is the root of using performance enhancing drugs in sport, cooking the books in business and behaving unethically towards competitors, clients and other stakeholders.

Letting go of the outcome once you have done your best does not mean you do not care. Instead, you have achieved a mature, balanced approached to performance excellence that is sustainable over time.


  1. Excellent blog! The point you made about having anxiety as to the outcome indicating that you have not truly remained in the process, is spot on.
    The processes of any of our ventures compose an enormous part of our lives, and we should focus on doing our best and enjoying them.
    The outcome is an interplay. Our play is doing our best and staying focused on our present venture.

  2. Nice post Mark.

    I absolutely agree that an attachment to results, rather than focusing on their being (how do you want to be as you’re taking this on?), is going to sap our clients of what they want to create.

    I really like to get my clients focused ontheir relationship to results. What does it mean to declare something and succeed? How about to declare and fail? What does it mean about themselves when they don’t achieve what they set out to do.

    This relationship will show up everywhere in their lives, and if we can create a shift in any of the places that the pattern is playing out, things will change drastically for them.


    • I agree Adam–glad you enjoyed the post. Your comment reminds me of the research on ego versus mastery orientations to sport. I broaden this to all forms of performance and use it a lot with my executive coaching as well. If we can get our clients focused on mastery and process, the results take care of themselves!

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