Not Just the Outcome, But the Process


“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” —Zen Proverb

Recently, I became a full-time writer.

Since making the change, friends and acquaintances have asked often how I enjoy my new role in the world. I typically respond by saying, “Well, you know what they say… I hate writing, but I enjoy having written.” I’ll go on to describe the difficult and unsexy writing process. But then I’ll describe how wonderful it feels to finish something that will be read and will live on to be picked up by any person, anywhere, at any point in the future. It’s a wonderful feeling really. And the quote is actually a pretty good description of the process.

But there’s one problem with my response—it focuses all joy on the outcome rather than the journey. It finds fulfillment in the product, but not in the process. And this tendency to focus postively on the outcome while lamenting the journey is far too common.

We long for the house to be clean, but hate the steps to get there. We look forward to reaching a desired weight but suffer through the diet or the exercise. We desire the college degree, but despise the homework assignments along the way. We live for the weekend when our work will be done, but complain about the idea of Monday morning coming again so soon.

This approach of only appreciating joy in the outcome robs us of countless moments along the way. When joy is only found in the final product, the rest of our lives are experienced as something to be avoided, endured, or suffered through.

This approach has other short-sighted, negative effects:

  • It discounts the role and importance of work and effort in our lives.
  • It misses opportunity to celebrate the small steps we take along the way.
  • It overlooks the value of exercising discipline.
  • It fails to appreciate the value of discomfort in our growth.

There is a better way: Mindfulness. Mindfulness maintains a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and surrounding environment. It does not delay joy until the finish line. Instead, it seeks meaning and intentionality throughout each step of the process.

I learned this practice when I first stopped using a dishwasher. While I used to view washing dishes as a chore to be dreaded, I suddenly began to view it as the final step in our meal and an act of service to my family. This new approach began to change the way I viewed this chore and many others.

For exercise, I run without music. As a result, because the distractions have been limited, I am better able to listen to my body. If it feels good, I am free to be alone with myself and my thoughts—not longing for the finish line, but finding joy in every step (or at least, most of them) along the way.

Mindfulness has also changed my view of work and employment. Work is no longer something to be avoided or removed as soon as possible. But work is about contribution. It is about adding value to society and the people around me in exchange for the value they are adding. And there is great joy to be found in it.

There is a Zen proverb quoted at the beginning of this post that often gets modified around my house. It starts to sound like this, “When washing the dishes, wash the dishes. When doing homework, do homework. When playing with your friends, play with your friends. When cleaning the bathroom, clean the bathroom.” Each time, it communicates the same meaning:

Recognize the importance and the joy in your present activity. Be mindful in every moment and each step of the journey. There is indeed great joy to be found in the process—not just in the outcome.

And that feels good to have written.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    Congratulations again, Joshua! Can’t believe it’s 45 days already… So that means it’s been a while since that day we spent at Co+Hoots huh?

    Just wanted to share that my first insight into Mindfulness came from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, The Miracle of Mindfulness.

  2. says

    I cannot tell you how much I enjoy your posts! They are truly shifting my mindset – filling my heart and life with peace – and teaching me, oh – so much. Thank you!

  3. Jackie says

    I love this. It’s like the quote I heard before “Wherever you are, be all there”. I continue to work towards that.

  4. says

    Joshua, this is so important…yet mindfulness is so hard!

    Part of it, of course, is that in our world of quick sound bites and intrusive mass media which try to hijack our attention any way they can, we’ve become conditioned to focus on externals and have short attention spans.

    But part of it–and this is something I struggle with–is that it’s often downright scary to be in the moment with ourselves.

    Mindfulness is incredibly important for the reasons you describe. It teaches us to focus on process rather than result, and all the valuable lessons that can be learned therein. And mindfulness feels *wonderful* when you manage to get into that magical flow state–when your attention is completely focused on the thing you’re doing, and you feel like whatever-it-is is being done through you, rather than you being the actor.

    But I can’t call that state up at will, and most of the time when I try to practice moment-to-moment awareness, all I’m faced with is myself…and all my shortcomings, whether perceived or real.

    Granted, I’m a recovering perfectionist. But how do you rest in mindfulness when your background mental chatter and vague feelings of uneasiness about yourself rise to the surface because there are suddenly no distractions from them?

    For me, this is an incredibly rich question, and currently the heart of my journey as a minimalist. I’ve mostly gotten the outer aspects of it down by now–not much clutter, and only the physical things around me that I want. But this inner stuff–how to be present in the moment and appreciate that without spiraling into all the ways I feel I’m not enough–THAT, for me, is the practice right now.

    And probably for many years to come. :)

  5. says

    Love this post. My dad always said, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” I also love the bumper sticker I once read that said, “I’d rather be here now.”

    I stopped running with music a few years ago and now can’t imagine the distraction of it. I tell my husband, “I’ve solved all my problems on my run.” It allows for such presence in the moment.

  6. Sharon says

    An amazing post that really hit home for me. The outcome of all your effort is only safisfying for a brief moment before you look toward the next outcome and in between your life passes. Live in the moment and your life will slow down enough to enjoy.

  7. says

    Oddly, knitting helped me with this immensely. I used to get so frustrated having to rip out stitches, all that “wasted time,” and over time it taught me patience to the point where I just enjoy the knitting and truly don’t mind at all when I have to start over (well, maybe the 3rd time on the same project….) The amazing part is that this spilled over into the rest of my life.

  8. says

    Synchronicity! My husband and I are two years in to de-cluttering our 40+ years of collecting. Feels good when the stuff is gone, but the sorting and organizing can be a major chore. Memories, guilt about letting some things go, you name it, we can have an attachment to it. However, we’re beginning to see the changes in our lifestyle and liking them, a lot. Then, I find your blog. Yes, synchronicity, thank you, Spirit.

    • says

      I have found something that helps me with the guilt of letting something go is to take a photograph of it. That way, the item may be gone, but I still have whatever memories may be attached to it. A photo takes up a lot less space. :-)

  9. says

    I have lately been depressed for various personal reasons I won’t get into here, but a book and a mindset which has helped greatly is “The Mindful Way Through Depression” by Mark Williams, et al, which includes a CD of guided meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I’ve taken a mindfulness workshop as well–but then didn’t continue the practice. Once one gets into the habit, daily, of being mindful from time to time (and you don’t “fail” if you don’t maintain mindfulness–the awareness that you are not being mindful is, actually, a mindful act) relieves one of the awful spiral of negative self-talk which accompanies depression.

    • Angela says

      Between Joshua’s post and your comment, my decision about embracing mindfulness into my life has been confirmed. I too live with depression and realize the need to be in the moment to decrease stress and the vicious cycle of negative thinking. Thank you!

  10. says

    Ah, this is absolutely beautiful… The joys of the process as well as the end result. Travelling is a lot like that – after you have travelled, you look back and think, Wow, that was an amazing journey! You only remember the good parts, forgetting the hard times. But I would like to remember the journey as well as the end result. I want to be in the moment every day no matter what we are going through – be it the corruption of the police, or the sweet sounds at a jungle cabin. We are travelling for a year, so to stay in the moment gets even harder. Hopefully, little by little, like you, I can get to enjoying the process as much as the end.

  11. Rachel May says

    Wow – I just had this same feeling this week! I’ve been working on the Minimalist Game and it’s really helped me refocus my attention.

    The biggest “enjoy the journey, not just the destination” example for me this week was knitting. I kept trying to knit, then I’d get flustered by the slow pace and not having as much progress as I’d like and give up (as a result, the build-up of unfinished items caused further stress). I started knitting a sock this week, appreciating this skill I have and really focusing on the beauty of the activity I was doing, the yarn, and how this activity affected me emotionally – it was so calming and centering. I’ve progressed further ahead than I had ever expected in a week as a result, but that’s just a pleasant addition to the joy it’s given me along the way.

    Thank you for your writing – I look forward to the emails I get about new posts.

  12. says

    If I could ‘like’ Christy’s comment, I would. I call myself a ‘process knitter’, more focused on the knitting than on the finished garment. I don’t mind ripping out an entire sleeve to make sure it fits the wearer–it’s the process that fascinates me.
    Recently, I read a book about the Amish. The author wrote that she noted the women were unhurried in their household tasks, not racing to be finished with laundry just to go on to the next job. The men viewed their farm work to simply be a part of their life, not their ‘job’. This attitude reminded me to slow down, focus on what I was doing as a natural part of my life, whether it was driving to a meeting, teaching a class, or unloading the dishwasher.

  13. Marilene Hunzeker says

    Thank you for the beautiful and wise words :) You are a great writer, I enjoyed reading every word. Have a wonderful weekend!

  14. says

    I first connected mindfulness with making pizza dough, of all things! enjoying the mixing of the dough, and then kneading it back and forth to make it extra elastic and springy. Focussed on the movements and the feel of the dough in my hands. I’d never swap that for a bread maker/mixer!

  15. Charmaine says

    Great post – it feels good to have read it! :)

    Funny about the dishwasher… though I always had one growing up, as an adult I never did until about two years ago. We bought if after our second child was born and doing the dishes fell to my husband (before we had usually done them together, chatting together as we did) and he felt like he was spending his life washing dishes! So he wanted one and so we got one. He’s now in charge of the dishwasher because I can’t stand the thing, heh. I think for us it has made our lives easier – at least he thinks it is easier than washing dishes by hand, and now I don’t have much to do with dishes it is certainly easier for me! :) But I look back at our dishwasher-free days fondly…

  16. says

    What a great post, and congratulations on being a full-time writer for 45 days! I have recently become a full-time artist, and while I don’t love every minute of painting, it’s still pretty awesome.

  17. says

    Hi Joshua,

    I just wanted to thank you for your post. I have recently been very angry at myself for continuing to accept a freelance role that I don’t enjoy purely for the money. You have made me realise that I can adopt a different attitude and be more mindful when I am in my work and be grateful for what it is that I am doing.

    Thanks for the inspiration.


  18. Anna says

    This post ougth to be the best of all the great posts made here at BecomingMinimalist. Loved it! Very thoughtfull and convincing, very easy yet powerful. Very much appreciated, you are a positive impact on not only my but also many other lives.

  19. says

    Congratulations on becoming a full time writer! I totally agree, the journey IS the destination, at least when I travel. :-)

    Now to make it so in my day-to-day life!

  20. Queen Mary says

    Lovely this one. Sorry I’m a bit behind, I hope to show my appreciation for your process by commenting more. Secret: When I was young — very young actually, we drove to my grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving and my mother and her two sisters were washing the dishes after dinner (there was no dishwasher), and they were laughing and having so much fun I wished I was old enough to was dishes and couldn’t wait until I could be big enough to wash dishes! So I’ve always seen washing dishes as fun! And then there’s there’s the whole mindfulness of it all too. :)

  21. Jean says

    Yes, this is such good wisdom. My Czechoslovakian grandmother used to say, “When we work, we work….and when we play, we play!” This is not necessarily something a child wants to hear….but instilled in me a good work ethic as a grownup where I am able to accomplish what I need to do and focus while I’m doing it.

  22. Lisa T says

    I’m currently in the process of selling, trashing, and donating my clutter. While I strongly anticipate the outcome (because I want it so bad, my clutter is literally making me nauseous), I have found appreciation for this process. It’s been about 3 weeks or so now and it is truly a purifying experience for the soul. I surely believe I must go through this to appreciate my clutter free home. I read a few posts on this website daily to remind myself that this is a journey well worth the effort. With having people close to me that live for possessions and depend on them for happiness, I see where I went wrong in life. I have already shared your work with many. Thank you

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