Secret to Success: Focus on the Process


When two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Peyton Manning retired earlier this year, he received a moving tribute from quarterback, Russell Wilson. Listing the many ways Manning had inspired him when he was a teenager at his camp, he mentioned the expected: learning to work hard and being disciplined. But buried in this list is some advice that is not as usual in our outcome-focused world.  He said, “You inspired me to love the process. To love the sweat. To love the tears.”

Obviously, outcomes are important, and we need to set both realistic and aspirational goals to guide our actions. But movement towards any significant goal is not a smooth progression, but rather one marked by obstacles and setbacks, even outright failure from which it can sometimes appear impossible to recover. It is in overcoming those obstacles and enduring those setbacks that the resilience and resourcefulness necessary to a successful outcome are forged. In Churchill’s words, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Focusing too intently on outcomes can make us fearful to make mistakes, and can cloud or even paralyze our decision-making abilities. In addition to fearing a negative business or financial outcome, we also fear the consequences of failure to our personal image.  Ego and fear are terrible impediments to a successful outcome.

When we shift the focus to the process of getting to our goal (the journey rather than the end point), we suddenly see that there are many roads we can take. If we take the wrong road, we can turn around and make a correction. We discover that a longer route may get us there more smoothly than a deeply rutted shortcut. Focusing on the process frees us to make mistakes and take risks, to experiment and improvise. It encourages divergent thinking and the kinds of behaviours that are necessary to find innovative solutions and new ways of adding value.

Arguably, this approach is also more in line with a contemporary team-based approach and a flatter organizational structure. When our egos aren’t tied to achieving an ultimate win, we are more willing to participate in a collaborative process, sharing information and responsibility…and eventually, credit.

In addition, putting the focus on process emphasizes learning, and most people find the learning process in itself stimulating and rewarding. For that reason, we’re less likely to rest on our laurels when we have achieved something; rather, we’re motivated to move on to the next challenge.

We can benefit by taking this outlook on a personal level as well. Even at the end of his stellar football career, Peyton Manning is still very much in this ‘value the process’ mindset. In his farewell speech, he said, “I’m totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something that I haven’t even discovered yet. Life is not shrinking for me - it’s morphing into a whole new world of possibilities.”

Our financial goals, for example, may be described by a specific dollar amount or lifestyle that we want to achieve by a certain time. But life is what happens on the way to reaching that point on the horizon. It is not unusual to hear a successful business person express regret at the end of a career so focused on achieving extrinsic goals that a personal life was almost non-existent. They regret not spending more time with their children when they were growing up, or constantly postponing elements of their personal life that would have brought them fulfillment and pleasure.

Our desire to build wealth is driven largely by the basic human quest for security and a sense of well-being. On a daily basis, this is not hard or expensive to attain: a well-prepared meal shared with family or friends, a peaceful walk in a beautiful place, the order and tranquility of a well-kept home, the stimulation of time spent with interesting people. It’s not a bad recipe for happiness to set out each day with the intention of building in some of the simple elements that make us feel happy and cared for. To once again quote Peyton Manning, “We’re going to teach our children to enjoy the little things in life because one day they will look back and discover that those really were the big things.”

Speaking of happiness, our neighbours to the south added a rather whimsical third quality to their national goals (in their Declaration of Independence) of life and liberty: “the pursuit of happiness”.  By contrast, our stated goals of peace, order and good government seem a little mundane. But, in fact, we may be on track to achieving happiness without pursuing it. Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert presents evidence that humans have the ability to synthesize (or literally manufacture) happiness. In a fascinating TED talk based on his book, Stumbling on Happiness, he gives evidence that we adjust to almost any outcome, no matter how dire, and, moreover, have the ability to feel happy in our new situation. It’s quite extraordinary to hear his tales of people who have lost their entire fortune or were wrongly incarcerated or were in terrible health insisting that their situation was the best thing that could have happened to them.

One more thing we can learn from Peyton Manning: he had the courage – and perhaps the self-knowledge – to quit when he was at the peak of his career. In so doing, he retained control of how he will be remembered by his fans, but more importantly, he takes that ‘top of my game’ mentality into the next phase of his life.

Daryn Form is a Senior Financial Advisor with Assante Capital Management Ltd. providing wealth management services to principals of family-owned and privately held companies. The information mentioned in this article is for general information only. Please contact him to discuss your particular circumstances prior to acting on the information above.  Assante Capital Management Ltd. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and is registered with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.