Can You REALLY Let Go of the Outcome?

OutcomeI’ve written before about the concept of process versus outcome in achieving sustainable excellence (see Understanding Process & Outcome). For 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 telltale signs that indicate otherwise.  Let’s take a look at the signs you are truly staying focused on your present performance rather than allowing undue focus on outcomes to undermine your excellence.

Are You Nervous About the Outcome?

If you 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 actually 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 types 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 waiting to hear 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.

A remarkable example of mastering this principal at the highest level of pressure is the 2018 Boston Red Sox. Under the direction of rookie coach Alex Cora, they took this approach, bringing their best to every game, every day, and even every pitch. If they lost one game like the 18-inning World Series marathon, they moved on. If they were down two outs with runners in scoring position–typically a pressure cooker/choking situation for the offense–they stayed focused on the next pitch. And the outcome followed: an unprecedented three doubles, a triple, three homers and 31 RBIs in this situation in the post season. The Red Sox knew how to stay focused on the process.

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’ve 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 will encounter that are beyond your control. If you stay focused on the process of being excellent every day, you understand you will win more often than you lose over the long haul. You have seen flashes in the pan and the long-term consequences when someone takes 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.

Don’t Focus On Outcomes? Are You Crazy?

When performers are initially exposed to this concept of process versus outcome, often their initial reaction 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 approach to performance excellence that is sustainable over time.

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