When you enjoy the process, you focus on the doing over the outcome. The activity itself becomes the reward.
Ironically, those who adopt this mindset also get much better results.
Learn about the various benefits of this approach and how you can learn to enjoy the process yourself.
What Does It Mean To Enjoy the Process?
To enjoy the process is to appreciate the journey instead of obsessing about the goal.
The perfect example is working out. Most people, when they join the gym, fixate on what they want to look like a year from now — the fat loss, the muscle gain.
Few people focus on the joy of working out itself — how it puts you in touch with your body, how it energizes you.
Yet, those few who emphasize the process always end up with the best results. They get fit, while everybody else quits.
That is the paradox of achievement — after setting your sights on a goal, you must forget about that goal. Instead, you must fall in love with the activity itself.
Enjoying the process is when …
- … you are fascinated with sales techniques and applying them artfully, instead of getting the close.
- … you look forward to your next Brazilian jiu-jitsu class, instead of obsessing about winning a medal at your next competition.
- … you constantly refine your social media content, instead of checking your follower count 10 times a day.
- … you enjoy cooking healthy foods, instead of worrying about what the scale will say tomorrow.
The Role of Time
The difference between outcome and process is time.
When you focus on the outcome, you project into the future. You imagine yourself in a desirable state yet to come.
When you focus on the process, you ground yourself in the present. You become one with whatever you are doing at the moment.
To reach a destination, you need both of these. You need to know where you want to end up. But you also need to appreciate the act of walking there, or you’ll quit.
What will get you in trouble is choosing one over another.
The vast majority of people err on the side of future fixation. I experienced this firsthand.
While I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to start college. When I was in college, I couldn’t wait to graduate. While I was still busy building my first business, I was already planning the second one.
It was like fast-forwarding a movie to only watch the last five minutes — when really the joy is in watching the story unfold.
But you can also go wrong the other way around, by being all present but having no direction. You’ll appreciate the moment, but you’ll get sidetracked.
However, this problem is much rarer.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards
To enjoy the process is to favor intrinsic rewards. You are practicing your chosen activity because doing it feels rewarding.
You enjoy writing movie scripts. You love doing research. You get all excited about building a new business.
To focus on the outcome is to favor extrinsic rewards. You want the status that comes with winning the Oscars or the Nobel Prize. You want to display your wealth on Instagram.
That is what it comes down to — do you want the trappings of success more than you want to feel content? Most people choose the extrinsic option, but happiness lies with the intrinsic rewards.
There is also a cultural aspect to this.
In the West, we have an outcome fixation. Just look at the teleological nature of our thought systems. Protestantism and Calvinism are prime examples. You must do well in life to get rewarded in the afterlife.
Then there is our obsession with degrees and titles. Not to mention our fixation with being declared the “winner,” especially in competitive sports. We want the result.
In contrast, Eastern traditions like Hinduism or Buddhism emphasize the process. The goal is to become completely present. What was yesterday and what will be tomorrow are moot points. Life only happens in the now.
Both of these approaches come with advantages and disadvantages.
In an achievement culture, things get done, but people get burned out. In an awareness culture, people are in touch with themselves, but practical problems pile up. Neither one is ideal; both must learn from each other.
When you learn to overcome your process fixation and enjoy the process, you benefit in multiple ways.
1. More “Alive” Time
Most of us live life on a goal-to-goal basis; we are always chasing the next accomplishment.
But while we are chasing, we are not living. We exist in this transitional phase that we can’t wait to get over with.
But in truth, these in-between stages are where our life happens. They take up much more time than our few short-lived triumphs.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.John Lennon
When you learn to enjoy the process, this changes. Your impatience goes away. You are now “tasting” each day, instead of rushing through it.
2. More Flow
To truly enjoy the process is to enter into a flow state.
When I started this blog, I set myself the goal of publishing 100 blog articles.
I got obsessed with this idea. I would imagine how much traffic I would get at that point, how many of these visitors I could convert to subscribers, etc.
I was fixating on the outcome.
It made things harder for me. I had to make myself sit down and write, even though I had no desire to do so. It was a daily battle.
But around article number 40, something clicked. I no longer dreaded the work. Rather, I would get carried away by it. Sometimes, I would look up from writing and two hours would have gone by without me even noticing.
These states of flow became more and more frequent. Nowadays, I experience them almost every day.
When you get to this point, it hardly matters if you reach your ambitious goal. If every day is spent in a state of joy, the outcome becomes secondary.
3. More Adventure
Every triumph is followed by an emotional let-down. You reached your goal. Now what?
But constant struggle — that is interesting. That’s where things happen.
Just look at our cultural narratives.
The 10-year-long travails of Ulysses. Frodo and his friends pushing for Mount Doom. Steve Jobs starting Apple in a garage.
We love these tales because they focus on the journey. It’s the adventure of getting there that keeps us glued to our chairs, not the happy ending.
Our own lives are no different. The adventure is now. By learning to enjoy the process, you will capture this sense of adventure.
One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.Sigmund Freud
4. More Growth
People fixated on reaching the next goal only look ahead. They can’t be bothered with the details.
As a result, they miss out on important learning opportunities.
Sure, they might somehow manage to get that promotion or win that championship. But eventually, they’ll hit a ceiling. Their incompetencies will start to show.
When you embrace the journey, all you think about are the details. You can’t get enough of how things work and why.
This level of detail might initially slow you down — but it will supercharge you in the long run. You will keep accumulating know-how until you become impossible to beat.
Enjoying the process will turn you into an expert.
Why We Struggle With Enjoying the Process
If enjoying the process is so crucial to our happiness, why do we struggle with it? There are three reasons:
- Delayed gratification
1. Delayed Gratification
With any skill worth acquiring, results won’t happen fast.
You don’t write an Oscar-winning screenplay on a weekend.
You don’t get jacked in a month.
You don’t build a Fortune 500 business in half a year.
These things take years if not decades of hard work. You must pay your dues.
We don’t like that. We want to experience positive reinforcement at every step of the journey. When that doesn’t happen, we give up on the process.
To have success, you must do the same thing every day.
You must go to the gym. You must edit your YouTube video. You must make those 10 cold calls.
That’s the process — refining the same thing endlessly.
Few people can stand that monotony. Most will abandon the process.
If you can learn to enjoy repetition, you can achieve what normal people think is impossible.Carmelo Anthony
Often, we are not sure what exactly the process entails. We are unclear about the next step.
For example, when I started training in BJJ, I was overwhelmed with the number of technical options. Should I focus on my passing? Improve my leglocks? Work on my takedowns?
All of these options seemed equally worthwhile to me. Zooming in on one felt like neglecting all the others.
This is a universal problem in all areas of life. By failing to define the next step, we are being pulled in all directions at once.
That wears us down to the point where we give up on the process.
12 Strategies To Enjoy the Process
Here is how you can learn to enjoy the process.
1. Follow Your Passion
Enjoying the process is a lot easier if you are passionate about what you are doing.
For example, if you have always been crazy about yoga, becoming a yoga instructor will seem like a worthwhile process to you.
But if you force yourself to become a programmer, even though you hate coding, you will abandon the process quickly.
Make it easy on yourself — pick something you enjoy.
2. Focus On One Thing
If you juggle too many projects, you will succeed with none.
Pick one process and give it your undivided attention. When you do that, you are more likely to enter into these effortless flow states.
3. Get Into the Nitty-Gritty
Enjoying the process is about details. The more you understand a thing, the more you will appreciate it.
For example, I stoke my passion for online marketing by listening to a different marketing podcast each day. By listening to other experts, I become even more passionate about my chosen craft.
4. Strike the Right Balance
Enjoying the journey is not the same as winging it. You should have a goal. But then you also must “forget” about that goal.
Here is what that looks like:
- Define what you want, e.g., “I want to be an influencer on YouTube.”
- Identify the means to get there, e.g., “I need to produce helpful videos en masse to get views.”
- Then lose yourself in the details of the process, e.g., “I will completely nerd out about video production.”
This is the paradox of achievement — you set yourself a goal, then you put that goal aside.
5. Celebrate Little Wins
You should celebrate little wins. If you break a new personal record at the gym, congratulate yourself. If you get 1000 subscribers for your email newsletter, pad yourself on the shoulder.
6. Push Through
Some days you won’t feel it. But it’s important to show up anyway. This is what separates the professional from the amateur — they keep putting the reps in, even under less-than-optimal conditions.
7. Practice Accountability
Getting an accountability partner (or coach) will help you to focus on the process. In a sense, you are outsourcing your goal fixation to somebody else.
It’s now their job to make sure you are still on track; you are free to lose yourself in your chosen activity.
8. Understand Your “Why”
Instead of fixating on the outcome, define your “Why.”
For example, your outcome might be to get 100,000 YouTube subscribers.
But that is just a metric. Your real motivation might be that this would allow you to quit your 9 to 5 and move to Bali.
When you understand your “Why,” the thing that inspires you, it will be easier to commit to the process.
9. Take a Break
You cannot work nonstop. You must take breaks.
But you must take the right kind of break, the type that will reenergize you. That’s not checking your Instagram.
Here are a few ideas:
- Sit on a bench in the sun
- Take a walk
- Go for a swim
- Do some mobility work
- Do a quick bodyweight workout
- Savor a healthy meal
One of the best ways to refresh yourself is to meditate for a few minutes.
Just close your eyes and observe yourself, whatever you feel. If you are feeling sad, watch yourself being sad. If you are feeling angry, watch yourself being angry.
By examining yourself in this fashion, whatever weighs you down will soon dissipate. It’s an effective method to counter outcome anxiety.
11. Reframe Detours as Learning Opportunities
Sometimes, you will make unnecessary detours. You will choose a less-than-ideal activity to make progress with your goal.
Many people are mortally afraid of such “missteps.” That makes it hard to enjoy the process.
You need to overcome this. Reframe detours as learning opportunities — because they are. They will teach you about your misconceptions, and what you need to do differently next time.
12. Trust the Process
Most of us cannot deal with delayed gratification. We want positive reinforcement from the get-go.
Of course, that is not how it works. In the beginning, you stink. The applause only comes later (once you stink less).
You must be patient.
It’s about the often-quoted 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Keep showing up, and you are guaranteed to succeed.