Don’t rely on your results for success

Don’t rely on your results for success

Since the day we start school we’re judged by our results more than our growth, which is a problem because it makes us vulnerable to failure, keeps us in a belief that we can’t change, and defines our worth by our results.

Focusing on input as a measurement for success instead of your output is a way to solve it.

Last year I met an interesting man in a hostel in Thailand, whom we’ll refer to as John. John felt like a failure, even though objectively he had done well for himself. He was in his late 50’s and a scholar of Russian literature, an expert in Tolstoy, at a university in the US.

He had made several academic discoveries, which had been published in scientific journals but he had not received the appraisal he wanted from his peers. He had written several short stories and even a novel, but had not been picked up by a publisher.

At the time I was writing my own novel and struggling to finish it. I had written several projects in university and had never been even close to having it published, let alone having anyone but my teacher read it. To me he was successful.

But not only was he not feeling like a success, he was in pain because of it. He felt like a failure, and it was tearing him apart. Because he was basing his entire feeling of success on the output of his work. On external factors, and how his work was received.

Clarifications before we continue: Input is the effort you put into a project, and the output is what comes out of the project. For example: John’s dedication to his research for 30 years. That was the input. His scientific papers about his findings was his output.

John was heartbroken because he thought his output wasn’t recognized as much as he wanted it to be. In his mind, he had made great discoveries, but he allowed their worth to be defined by what other people thought of them.

His work was no better or worse because of other people’s (lack of) recognition. It was only in his mind. He wanted external validation of his work to show himself he was a success. But if he truly thought his findings were great, would validation change that?

External validation has got nothing to do with us and the work we do. It’s all based on other people’s perception of what we’ve done .

John put his feeling of success (and in the process his feeling of self-worth) in the hands of others by awaiting their approval of his output. He allowed his well-being to be determined by the perception of others.

We’ve all experienced situations where we thought our input (work) was better than that of other’s but we didn’t get the prize. Be it a job, a grade or a trophy.

John’s example is like entering a contest. By doing so the vast majority of us define our success by the judges’ score (their personal taste). But by doing so we put our feeling of success into the hands of other people. We define our success by what other people think of our input.

Not everyone perceives the world the same way as you do, and often you won’t end up with the output you feel your input is worth. Or in other words: you won’t achieve the results you think your work is worth. 

Would you define yourself as a success if you won a coin toss or would you feel like a failure if you lost? Because there’s no skill to it, only chance. The outcome is out of your hands.

Don’t define your success by something that’s out of your hands, because it will bring you frustration upon frustration. You output is impacted by external factors and it’s therefore out of your control. The only thing we can control is our input. Focus on that!

Focus on the input, not the output.

There is no failsafe way to make sure you get the results you want.

The point is to not define your success by the output you receive, because you can’t control it. What you can control is your input, however, and that can drive you towards your goals.

As we covered in the article about why ambitious goals are bad, there are too many uncertainties to be 100 % sure you can reach a specific goal, but you can focus on the road to getting there, which will bring you closer to it.

And if you do, you focus on the process of getting there (your input) and the growth you see in yourself, which will put you in charge of how successful you are. Because when we define our success by our growth instead of our results we take it out of the hands of others and put it back into our own.
With a focus on results it doesn’t matter how much you’ve grown, and how far you’ve travelled, you’ll still feel like a failure if you don’t see the results you expect. But creating a feeling of success around the process triggers motivation when you see growth, and it feels like your efforts are worthwhile.
You can decide to work on becoming better at bowling. You cannot decide to win a tournament. But if you decide to become better, your chance of winning a tournament also improves.

The more and the better the input, the greater the chance of a successful output. (Look at the outstanding graph below)

The output you gain from your input is not linear because the higher the chance of successful output, the more input you need to keep up with the curve. The difference between great and world class can be 10 % output, but it might require an additional 50 % effort to get it.

By focusing on your input, you make success about the work you do and how you improve by doing it. With a positive feeling of success when doing your work, you’ll have a want to further improve, which will bring you closer to the output you wanted to begin with.

If you focus on your input you don’t have to worry about seeing the results, because it will automatically bring you closer to the output you want.

CHANGE your focus from output to input to put your success into your own hands AND improve your chance of reaching your goals.

It’s a win-win situation.

But reading an article isn’t enough to make a change in your life! You also need to take action. Make a commitment to yourself right now with a small exercise:

Decide on a project where you can change your focus from output to input and email us at to let us know about it, so we can help you be consistent.

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