Behavioral Psychology

Focus On The Journey Not The Outcome

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Most of us pursue a new endeavor with a definite goal in mind, though this goal is often loaded with ephemeral psychological and emotional sensations. At any rate there’s a desired outcome, and it’s this desired outcome that’s supposed to sustain us through all the difficult times where our motivation flags and we feel like giving up.

The problem with this setup from the behavioral point of view is that the reinforcement schedule is all wrong. There’s only one reinforcement, the far off desired outcome, and it occurs much later than the required set of behaviors needed to get there. For reinforcements to be really effective they need to occur at or around the time of the behavior being reinforced. When a dog performs a desired trick you give it the treat right then in the moment, you don’t wait a few days and then give it the treat or it won’t make the connection between the trick and the treat.

There are myriad daily behaviors necessary to support any desired long-term outcome. But when you’re focused more on the outcome than the journey you actually make the chances of that outcome coming to pass go down dramatically since none of those myriad daily behaviors get reinforced in the moment.

Ironically then if you want to increase your chances of attaining any long-term result you’ve got to stop placing so much emphasis on the outcome and instead focus on the journey itself, on seeing the stand alone value of minute behaviors and setting up a system that rewards you emotionally and psychologically in the moment for performing them. Focus on the journey not the outcome and from the point of view of behavioral psychology your chances of a successful outcome will go up not down.