Why Craving “Results” Gets Us No Results

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One of the most common concerns I hear from people I work with is that, when they’re trying to focus on a project at work, they find themselves worrying that what they’re doing won’t get them any meaningful results.

For example, perhaps they’re writing an article, and they find themselves worrying that no one will read it. Maybe they’re concerned that the marketing strategy they’re working on won’t create sales. Or perhaps they just keep getting the nagging feeling that there’s something more important they could be doing.

Usually, to get rid of this anxiety, people switch tasks, jumping from drafting that presentation to writing that long e-mail. Yet somehow, shortly after they start their new task, they often find the same worry arising. So, they move to yet another project.

Unfortunately, the result of all this is that people constantly jump between projects throughout the day, and get to the end of the workday without making much progress in any of their tasks.

It’s All Over Your Life

When I’m working with someone dealing with this issue, I ask them to consider the possibility that they can’t fix this problem by finding the “right” task to do. I invite them to give up the idea that, if they keep changing projects, they’ll eventually find one that feels like it’s worth their time.

Instead, I ask them to explore whether they find the worry that “this won’t get me any results” coming up in other areas of their lives. Almost always, people respond that they feel the same anxiety around their relationships, hobbies, and other aspects of their lives outside work.

For example, some people constantly fret over the intimate relationship they’re in, worrying that they’re missing out on “someone better.” They end up constantly bouncing between partners, perpetually unsatisfied.

In other words, the sense that “this won’t get results” is lurking in the background of everything they do — almost as if it’s part of the lens through which they’re seeing the entire world.

Just becoming aware of this, I’ve found, can be liberating. When we understand that the fear of “not getting results” is all over our lives, at least we can drop our stressful, futile quest for the “right” project, relationship, or activity.

Getting to Know the Fear

When someone is willing to explore this issue more deeply, I invite them to pause for a moment whenever they feel that fear of “not getting results” coming up. I ask them to stop whatever they’re doing, and put their attention on the anxiety.

I invite them to get as familiar as they can with the fear they’re feeling. Notice where it lives in the body — perhaps the throat, chest, stomach or somewhere else. Observe what it feels like — perhaps a tension, heat, chill, or something else.

If you try this, what I think you’ll see is that, the more intimate you get with a difficult feeling, the more comfortable that feeling becomes. The more you get to know that worry that “I won’t get results,” the less powerful and threatening that feeling will seem.

What’s more, the more comfortable you get with this worry, the less it will control your work habits. You’ll become able to keep moving forward in your tasks, even when that feeling is arising — and, as it turns out, get more “results” in your work.

Photo by Zach Klein