Quick Takes:

  • Goals are important, but cause us to focus on the outcome
  • It’s easy to become outcome dependent and tie your success to the outcome of your goals
  • The desired outcome, however, should be new experiences and self-growth
  • Therefore, your ultimate goals should be independent from traditional outcomes

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

It’s the plight of all goal-oriented people; the catch-22 of success. It’s also one of the hardest things to balance when pursuing the ideal vision of your life:

Outcome dependence 

What’s outcome dependence? It’s a mental condition that occurs when someone is so focused on achieving a goal that the successful attainment of that goal is all that matters. The process of getting there is just a necessary component in achieving the desired outcome, which means that if the goal isn’t attained, all’s for naught.

Outcome dependence manifests itself in the form of apprehension and anxiety that a goal won’t be achieved in the manner planned and creates a fear of failure. It effectively pulls a person out of the present moment and forces them to sit anxiously in the future. And when the future is, by definition, infinite in possible outcomes, it’s normal for a person with a dependence on the outcome to worry about a future that may never exist.

Think about your life. What are your goals? How do you plan on achieving them? Are you enjoying the process of getting there, or are you worried about the possibility of not being successful?

If you are anxious about the future and worried about failure, chances are you’re outcome dependent. If you stress over the potential outcomes of your goal, your outcome dependence has become a dependence on failure: your happiness or unhappiness directly depends on the amount of failure – or success –  you put on yourself.

Notice how the failure that you may or may not feel is a feeling, and one that you directly cause yourself to feel. Failure is not a person or even an event, its a controllable viewpoint for which one can  manage. It’s impossible, however, to positively manage the feeling of failure if you’re outcome dependent.

This is due to two reasons:

1. If you work hard toward your goal but don’t achieve it, your outcome dependence will force you to view yourself as a failure. It doesn’t matter how much you grew or learned during the process, all that matters is that the result was not the one you wanted. It’s binary, ones and zeroes.

2. Even if you do achieve your goal, chances are it won’t be the result you imagined. The future is unpredictable and even the successful achievement of your goal might yield different results than you envisioned.

So, if you’re outcome dependent, chances are you’ve already set yourself up for failure.

But if its possible to control failure – or at least the feeling of failure – then why would someone knowingly set themselves up to fail? Why would they remain outcome dependent?

Outcome Independence

Instead, we need to decouple ourselves from our outcomes, and cultivate a feeling of independence from outcome.

An independence from outcome manifests itself in the true enjoyment of the journey. You have goals, yes, and work hard toward achieving them, but you understand that the ultimate value is gained from the increased growth and learning – through the incremental process of attaining your goals.

To you, goals are important, but only because they force you to increase your potential and grow.

So while a dependence on outcome causes negative emotions such as fear and anxiety, an independence from outcome offers the exact opposite emotions: calm and happiness.

These feelings of calm and happiness are a result of a focus on the journey and not the end-result, because all journeys worth taking never have downsides, only new opportunities to experience.

While it’s easy to stress the principles and benefits of outcome independence, actually becoming outcome independent is much harder. We all have lofty goals, and we all want to achieve them. We have a very clear vision for our ideal life, and in order to make that vision a reality we need to meet and exceed our goals.

If your desire is to be successful entrepreneur, a music producer, a loving spouse or anything in between, there are specific goals that must be met so you can live the life we want. If the vision of your life is a worthy one, then the desire to achieve them will be ever present.

Our goals then, are extremely important. So much so that we might become dependent on them. It’s a nuanced point, I know, but there needs to be a focus on the end-goal, but success needs to be measured by the person we become and not the goals we attain.

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, for example, your goal could be to start a multi-million dollar business. You save up a personal runway, begin building a business as a side-gig, and when you’re ready, you leave your job.

You quickly realize that timelines never happen in the timeframe expected, and it dawns on you that you might be living on your savings for a little longer than expected. Understanding you need advice from successful people in the space, you begin to reach out to mentors and peers, all while grinding on your business.

Your sales cycle is slow, but you methodically begin to gain traction. You befriend inspiring entrepreneurs and entrench yourself in the entrepreneurial social circles within your community. You reinvest your earnings back into the business and travel across the world connecting with stakeholders and influencers.

After a few hard fought years, you realize that your business won’t become the multi-million dollar organization you set out to create. Given the current market opportunity, it ends up as a lifestyle business that generates roughly $100k in annual profit and gives you the ability to live and work wherever you want.

If you were an outcome dependent person, your business would be a failure. End of story.

If you were an outcome independent person, your journey would be an absolute success! You met new and interesting people, you traveled the world, and ultimately you faced your fear, took a chance and started a business that’s successful by many people’s standards. Your growth through your experiences is what you focus on.

It’s clear that it pays to be outcome independent. It’s also clear that it’s easier said than done. What’s most clear, however, is that regardless of your dependence, it’s important that you set goals and then actively pursue them.

The key is that while you pursue your goals and actively shape your life, you understand that the outcome isn’t the result of the goals, it’s the person you become as a result of chasing them.