DON’T BE A FOOL: STICK TO PROCESS

April Fool’s Day is coming up soon: a day for pulling pranks and practical jokes, or spreading hoaxes and testing just how gullible people are.

It also means we’re a quarter of the way through 2017—a good time to take stock of what kind of progress you’re making toward your goals. Do your New Year’s Resolutions already seem like a distant memory?

If so, rather than looking in the rear-view mirror and revisiting those resolutions, I suggest you do a mental re-set. It’s time to think less about resolutions and goals, and more about process.

Wait… Aren’t goals a good thing? Aren’t we all taught from an early age to set high goals for ourselves?

Yes, goals are a good thing… up to a point. But they can also backfire, as the Harvard Business School found in a report called “Goals Gone Wild.” Overly fixating on goals can make you rigid and less able to adapt to changing circumstances. You can feel like a runner chasing the horizon: never quite able to get to where you want to be. Or, as best-selling author Gretchen Rubin points out, there is the “danger of the finish line.” Once you’ve achieved a goal, do you suddenly lose sight of the habits that got you there?

Goals can be great as a distant guiding light, a kind of “north star” to navigate by. But researchers are finding that a process mindset is not only more productive, but more rewarding.

I’m a big fan of looking to sports for inspiration and instruction. It’s a kind of pure laboratory of human striving for excellence: a great place to study what kind of habits and routines and mindsets actually work.

And the great athletes and coaches are all obsessed with process. When a ballplayer is asked what he admires most about another athlete, he will often say something like: “I just love the way he goes about his business.” Football coach Bill Walsh, who won three Super Bowls with the 49ers, said if you focus on process and routine, “the score takes care of itself.”

 Process is related to two other key ‘p’ words: purpose, and patience. We stick to a process because we are committed to deep purpose; and finding the process rewarding in itself helps us stay patient. As world-class trainer Brett Bartholomew says: It’s about “knowing that following a certain set of steps, even if they aren’t immediately gratifying, will lead to enduring satisfaction and fulfillment.”

I’ve found this to be true, both in my life in general, and in my work as a financial advisor. The best (and calmest!) investors are those who focus on process, on sticking to time-tested principles. They don’t panic when the market, or their portfolio, takes a sudden dip. They know that real value stands the test of time.

Setting goals and constantly measuring your progress by that yardstick is tempting. But that approach can be a fool’s errand, and stir up more anxiety than it’s worth. Stick to process. And keep in mind that the journey is its own reward.