Rewards as By-Product

by Dan Walsh

Setting goals for work, instead of outcome.

I’ve begun formalizing my goals for 2014 and noticed something peculiar: They are all achievements. They are destinations. Looking back at past years I realize I follow the same pattern: earn a black belt, write a novel, etc. These goals say nothing of the journey and don’t even provide clues on how to start. What if this year instead of setting achievement goals, I set journey goals?

I had this thought yesterday morning on the bus. What if I made goals for just showing up? What if instead of saying I want to earn a black belt in Judo, I say that I want to attend three Judo classes every week? I set a few goals like that this year and they were runaway successes. Writing 30 posts in 30 days was one of these goals, and the benefits I’ve gained from this new practice have been phenomenal: I think more clearly, my writing has improved drastically, and I’m creating fulfilling work of which I’m proud. I think I can apply a similar structure to my other goals and see huge gains.

There are a few reasons why this structure should be better. External factors can get in the way of accomplishing achievements, but simply showing up on a regular basis is something over which I have a lot of control. Also, if the goal is to show up and simply put in the work, then every time I show up I am accomplishing my goal. I am making progress in a tangible way. Even if i can’t see my skills improving, I can¬†see that I have written 15 out of 30 posts in as many days, for example. I’m halfway there! This type of progress sounds meaningless in some ways, but it’s immensely powerful. Progress is motivating. It’s the same reason why videogames have levels.

I am reading Steven Pressfield’s War of Art right now. He knows how to provide wisdom when it will be most useful. It’s an incredible skill. I came upon this little gem yesterday:

“The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”

This sentiment closely echoes my feelings about¬†doing weird shit, albeit much more succinctly. I’m going to reformat my 2014 goals to focus on the work, instead of the outcome. Rewards can be the by-product – if they like.