Is Life Passing You By?


It’s easy to feel as though life is passing us by these days. With tight restrictions and lockdowns remaining in place throughout much of the world, it’s becoming harder than ever to “find the joy in the little things” (and probably equally as annoying by this point to see yet another Instagram post about #thelittlethings).

Tobias Stone poignantly wrote:

Our senses are starved. They lie dormant, waiting for the reopening. It is nearly a year now, though time no longer passes with any structure. Each day is the same, weekends bleed into weeks, days into months, the seasons blur into each other. A life normally rich in texture and color is smoothed out into monotone sackcloth.

There are two main ways we experience life – process orientation and outcome orientation. Most people operate in outcome orientation. 

Outcome orientation is predominantly taught in our culture through phrases such as “put your toys away,” “study hard,” “get good grades,” “get married and have a family,” “save for retirement.” The message being delivered to us many times a day is “Get the job done!”

You do things to reach a specific goal. Perhaps you donate money to help starving children. You drive across town to get to work. You shop for groceries so that you can make dinner. While all of these statements help to make life work, they are about accomplishing goals, not enjoying experiences.

The message delivered to us by our parents was to be responsible. This usually meant you had to postpone fun things to do until later.

For example, you are taking out the garbage. The goal is to get the garbage in the trash can outside. Therefore you are outcome oriented. You are focused on achieving a particular goal in this case, which makes perfect sense. The idea is not to enjoy the process, that is, smelling the aroma of the garbage, feeling the slosh at the bottom of the garbage bag, and that sort of thing.

When dumping rubbish, the goal is simply to dispose of it as quickly and efficiently as possible and not to relish the experience. That’s not what you want to do with most of your life.

On the other hand when having a nice, romantic candle-light dinner with your partner, the goal is not to obtain the outcome, which would be to finish the meal. In this case, enjoying the process – the dining, drinking, talking and sharing – is the goal.

Functionality and outcome orientation are not entertained much when you are being process oriented. That’s not to suggest that within any kind of activity there are no goals. It’s that in those instances the goal is not the focus of your attention, it is the process. Hopefully in this example you and your partner are enjoying the food, the aroma, the music, the ambiance, the other person’s company, their feelings and the mood created.

People act as if getting to work is an outcome. Getting that report in on time is another outcome. Then going to a meeting is still another outcome. But life is really an ongoing series of “now” experiences. It is an ongoing process. There is only one true outcome to life and that’s death. Obviously you don’t want to get bogged down there, but focus on experiencing your existence.

Remember when you were a child and you tried running up a down-escalator? (Bet you haven’t done that since then!) When you are in that playful mood, you may want to get to the next floor, but you decide that enjoying the experience is also important. You could quietly take the up-escalator but running up the down-escalator is so much more fun.

Generally, throughout life, you want your focus of attention to be primarily on the process and less on the outcome. Remember, it is the experience of life that is most meaningful. You don’t have to savour the process of every single moment (e.g. taking out the garbage, or washing the dishes), which seems to often be the misguided advice these days. Instead make your overall day fun and fulfilling by enjoying the process of the meaningful experiences.

3 Quick Tips to Reset Outcome Orientation to Process Orientation

  1. Practice savouring to focus on enjoying the experience. Read more about savouring here.
  2. For greater happiness, inject pleasure, fun or a positive attitude into all your activities.
  3. Detach yourself from always needing a result. Enjoy your life, rather than just accomplish your life.