How to Apply Process-Oriented Principles in Real Life

In this final installment of the 4-part series on process-oriented goal-setting, I’m going to discuss how to make peace with the result-oriented world by applying process-oriented principles where it counts.  Along the way, we’ll clear up some misunderstandings and pitfalls, paving the way for truly best of both worlds: great results produced by enjoyable processes.

In a hurry?  Read the digest version.

In the previous chapter, we discussed how to set process-oriented goals.

But in reality, we can’t live on process-oriented goals alone. We set little and big goals everyday, without even being aware that we do, because we do need to produce results. Money is a result, not a process. Food on the table is a result, not a process. A roll of toilet paper ready to be used in your bathroom is a result, not a process.

So far I’ve discussed process-oriented and result-oriented goals as if they are mutually exclusive entities. They are not. In reality, we set goals that have the mix of the two extremes, the ones that fall in the middle. At least, I hope you do — because many of the goals end up being just result-oriented. Necessarily so. We need to eat to survive — food on table is a result we must produce one way or another.

So, how can we apply the principles of process-oriented goals in the real life? The answer is, whenever you can. The more you apply process-oriented principle in your goal-setting, the more you enjoy life, because most of your life you spend on your way to getting something. Choosing the path that you enjoy means you spend more time enjoying, even before you get the result.

The Fundamental Guideline

Consider this rule of thumb: the longer it takes to produce the result, the greater the need to apply process-oriented paradigm. The longer the path is, the more important it is for you to make sure the path, in addition to the destination, is right for you. Make sense?

For example, if you’re out of toilet paper and need to get one, you set that as a result-oriented goal. It’s a small chore and not of high importance (though it can be high priority). You don’t have to choose a store based on which store is on the road that you like better. Just pick the nearest one. Choose a method based purely on efficiency.

On the other end of the extreme are things like career goals and life’s missions. You’re going to spend your life time pursuing them, which means your life is almost entirely spent on the path. You better enjoy the path. That’s more important than the fit of the destination (which is also important — don’t get me wrong — but not as important).

Let’s go back to the travel example used in the previous installment. Let’s say one of your life’s goals is to travel and see real Safari before you die. So you save money to travel to Africa. But here you employ a process-oriented approach to complement the pursuit of the destination. So you have to be frugal and save money — instead of spending money by traveling to closer but less exciting places, you decide to have fun in the saving process. You borrow videos and books on Safari from library. You scour the web and try to line up e-mail penpals from Kenya or Tanzania. You buy products from the area — crafts, coffee, clothing. You make learning about your destination a part of the process leading up to it. This adds thrill to the chase. Going there will be the pinnacle of a joyful journey.

Pitfalls of Process-Oriented Paradigm

As with many things in life, there is very little that is black and white, one or the other. Most situations fall somewhere in the middle, in the shades of gray. While you’re trying to incorporate process-oriented paradigm to everything from your day-to-day decision making and long-term goals, watch out for these pitfalls.

  • Process-oriented doesn’t mean you don’t have to reach the goals. Be careful about setting unattainable goals simply because you like the process of pursuing it. It can lower your motivation and ambition. Ideally, set your goals just beyond where you think you can reach for sure, so that you have to go out on you limbs, really stretch yourself, to get there. Chris Guillebeau‘s goal of visiting very country in the world is an ambitious goal — but he has every intention of accomplishing it. Don’t think of process-oriented paradigm as an excuse not to reach your goal. It just simply means that if you fall on the way even after putting in your very best effort, your life will not be a failure.
  • Process-oriented doesn’t mean you don’t have to produce good results. There are kinds of effectiveness and impacts that only results can produce. Consider this truth: process-oriented paradigm serves you, while result-oriented paradigm serves everybody else. It’s not exclusively so, but generally speaking, that’s how it works. Many hobbies are products of process-oriented thinking. But while they are enjoyable, most of the times we’re not looking for hobbies to produce anything, except good time. It feeds your soul, but it doesn’t necessarily meet anybody else’s need. No value exchange happens — that’s why you don’t get paid to pursue your hobby. If you want to make your hobby produce something, then you have to produce some kind of results that provide value to someone else’s life.
  • Process-oriented isn’t the same thing as wandering aimlessly. Goals are still goals, and effectiveness still matter. You may decide to start driving without picking any destination, because you enjoy driving. But really, do you enjoy just driving round and round in your neighborhood? Even if your goal was to enjoy the process of driving, you are more likely to enjoy that process if you pick somewhere to go. Sure, physical destination isn’t the only goal there is — like taking a walk without destination. Still, notice there are objectives in these activities. You take a walk without picking a physical destination, to experience the spontaneity, element of surprise, and enjoy a moment without going after something. That’s still a goal, and you’ll be more effective at accomplishing those objectives if you become aware of them or identify them and set out to go after them. Thrill of a chase still requires something to chase.

So, you can see that process-oriented and result-oriented goals still share the fundamental reason for setting goals: to be effective. You set goals because you want to be productive. But by employing the process-oriented paradigm into the traditional result-oriented ways, you become doubly productive — you produce good results, and enjoy the process.

Concluding Thoughts

Most of us live completely on the result-oriented terrain, but this paradigm can set you up in situations where you’re wrestling with the process of producing the desired results all the time, thus robbing enjoyment and fulfillment out of your life.

By incorporating process-oriented paradigm, you get the best of both worlds: good results and fulfilling process. Franklin Covey talks about P/PC paradigm — production and production capabilities. Production is the result, and production capability is your ability to engage in the production. Usually, you have to halt production in order to recharge the production capability. With process-oriented principle generously applied, you will be recharging your production capability while you are producing. Think about how productive you become! (That said, I’m not saying you’ll never have to take a break from work or go on vacation. Too much of a good thing is still too much.)

I hope this series of essays opened up your eyes to new way of living and doing things. If you have stories about how process-oriented approach is empowering you to live a fulfilling life style, please let me know.


  1. Pingback: Our Best Version | How to Apply Process-Oriented Principles in Real Life (Digest)

  2. Hi Ari

    I enjoyed reading these essays very much. Thank you. I have to say when I stumbled across the first one, I was almost in complete disagreement. It seemed so ‘black and white’. After reading through all the essays however, I have to say I agree with you.

    I was living a very result-oriented life over the past 2 years because there were things that I just needed to get done. As simple as that. For example, to get my Master’s degree I needed to do 7 papers. Thankfully I enjoyed 4 out of the 7, but for the other 3 I just ploughed through and got them done. I can barely remember what I wrote now. What I do remember is setting myself a goal and a time-line, blinders on, and making sure they got finished on schedule with a decent grade.

    For my more ‘process-oriented’ friends, they completed the degree in double the time I did it, enjoying lively debates, etc. Granted, they got a lot more out of it than I did, but after they saw that I had completed it, and moved on to a much better job, I began to sense some frustration seeping in. As you said above, “Be careful about setting unattainable goals simply because you like the process of pursuing it. It can lower your motivation and ambition.” A swift kick in the a$$ from me and they’re now done and in a better job. Now we are all enjoying the fruits of our labour and enjoying life a bit more.

    Keep up the great blogging!

    1. Hi Jen,

      Sorry I didn’t respond for so long. I consider myself out of blog business at this point.

      Thanks for sharing your story. Seems like you are aware of the whole balancing act — and where the right balance is for you! Obviously, the best place is where the results and the process are both rewarding. I just wanted to point out, however, that the process is where we spend most of the time, so don’t ignore that piece just because you have your eyes on the results.

      Best wishes!


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