The act is the reward

It’s scrawled in the margin of many of my books. It’s a section in my commons. P>O is shorthand for “the process is more important than outcome.” And to give you some understanding of the theme, here’s some notes and quotes I’ve got filed under it.

From Punished by Rewards, the following passage:

“… a child promised a treat for acting responsibly has been given no reason to keep behaving that way when there is no longer a reward to be gained from doing so.”

​From The Score Takes Care of Itself, I’ve noted that, for Bill Walsh, “the prime directive was not victory.” Victory was a consequence of rigorous preparation, analysis and adaptation. When you focus on the latter, the former ensues. 

But something I picked up from Robert Greene’s Mastery is that preparation, training and analysis aren’t always fun. They can be monotonous and hard. So people quit. The pain inherent in the process is what deters them from seeking and achieving mastery of a craft.

Yet, people do push through. How? Why can they tolerate the pain and others can’t? The answer, something I learned from Lyndon Lane, is not welcoming. When it comes to hard work and struggle, you’re a fool if you think it gets easier. It doesn’t. You just get used to the discomfort. 

But there are things that make it easier to push on. One is recognition for the work you’re doing. Getting credit can help, but it is a fickle source of support. As Hemingway says, “you must be prepared to work always without applause.” You can do this more easily when you heed the words of Seneca:

“The wise man regards the reason for all his actions, but not the results. The beginning is in our own power: fortune decides the issue, but I do not allow her to pass sentence upon myself.”

Are you beginning to see what “process over outcome” is all about?

In the last year, I’ve begun to bring this approach into my own life. And something finally clicked last week. I was thinking about how I would summarise the idea of “process over outcome.” I think I’d do it with the following sentence.

The act is the reward.

The reception this piece receives is, in a way, irrelevant. The fact that I get to write it should be enough. Walking the dog might help me decompress and de-stress, but that’s not the point. That I get to spend time amongst nature with a being whose natural state is one of affection, energy and interest is a great gift. Weight training helps me stay lean and strong. That’s good. But the feeling of a body that is in sync, generating power and energy is recompense itself. Is it not enough to move? 

“Process over outcome” is an idea that, intellectually, I get. But it’s not something I’ve truly understood until this week. 

I will continue on my quest, whilst remembering that the act, the search itself is the reward. It doesn’t matter if I don’t find what I’m seeking. As Ryan Holiday put it: “Meaning comes from what you put in, not what you pull out.”