Process Oriented vs. Goal Oriented (The Financial Athlete #133)

“Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” – Michael Jordan

Teaching tennis during the summer to two beginner level girls was fun. The girls learned how to volley with control, ground stroke with top spin, serve without a push, and basic game strategy for doubles…enough to do fine for high school tennis. I was proud of their work ethic, progress, and above all, their love for the game.

I watched them play their last match. They were given no time to warm-up, but neither were their opponents. The top of the net obstructed most of balls the girls hit with top spin. Their volleys were rushed and forceful. They tried for too many winning point shots, while their opponents kept the ball in play. (To keep the ball in play is a strategy to win by allowing your opponents to beat themselves with unforced errors.) Unnerved with falling behind in score, the girls I had trained reverted to old and ineffective habits such as hitting most ground strokes with flat strokes. Their confidence waned, sinking into a sea of disappointment. Abandoning the process based on skills, they inadvertently abandoned playing in a balanced state of mind.

The root problem lied in that they were too goal oriented, not process oriented. The increasingly elusive goal of victory reflected in their sluggish body language, as though their bodies were slowly melting into the earth. Ironically, had they focused on the process of playing skillfully rather than on winning, they may have come back from far behind to win the match.

To be fair, being process oriented is not an easy feat when things go against your favor. Being process oriented is a skill that takes conscious effort to cultivate. First, you must trust the effective process. In trusting the process, your mind and muscles are not bound by unnecessary tension. Your mind remains in relaxed state, regardless of the circumstances. Secondly, you must have the discipline to stick with the process. Knowing the process but abandoning it is as useless as not knowing it at all.

Do not confuse being process oriented with being intransigent. Being process oriented allows for adjustments. It includes contingency plans and is continuously refined. If you are process oriented, you are fully present to make the proper adjustments.

An investor should stick to the process of adhering to sound investing principles with at least 90% of his wealth. The remaining 10%, call it “play money”, can be used on an “experimental basis”.


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