Focus on the goal or the process?

The central message of the ‘Bhagavadgita’ (1) according to Mahatma Gandhi, is “to do one’s duty without focusing on the result”. One day, this topic came up for discussion between me and one of the younger colleagues in my department, in India. He challenged the concept by saying “How can one achieve the result without focusing on it? This goes against common sense”. I tried to convey the truth behind this message by this explanation.

“You believe one should never lose focus on the result or the goal to be achieved. Otherwise you will not achieve your goal. Let us apply this principle to one of your routine daily activities – you reaching this office building, every morning.

In the morning, you sit on the motor cycle, in the parking lot of your apartment. You start the engine. Your goal now is to reach the office building. According to your formula for success, you should continuously focus on the office building from this point. But wait. Can you see your office building from this place? No. It means you failed to focus on your goal, even before you started your journey. What did you do then?

You knew the route to be followed, to reach your office. Following your previous experience, you drove out of the apartment complex, turned right and were driving towards the office building, on the first leg of your journey. Are you NOW focusing on the office building? No, you can’t see it even now. You are not thinking or worried about not seeing that goal. But you are happily driving ahead on that road. What are you doing, while busily driving?

You drive safely, watching the vehicles on both your sides and ahead of you. You take care not to hit any other vehicle or get hit by any other. Are you aware that when driving, your office building is not on your mind, even for a moment, let alone focusing on it. Did you forget your goal of reaching your office building? What is happening next on your journey?

You come to a red light and stop. Your journey comes to a halt. You are now focusing on the red light, instead of focusing on the office building. Your goal is again out of focus. What next?

You have a three choices when the light turns green, turn right or turn left or go straight. You know you have to turn right at this intersection. The light turned green and you turned right. Again you are focusing on taking the right direction safely, not on your office building.

What if there is a detour due to road repairs on the way? You follow the unknown and unfamiliar route, guided by the signs for the detour. You ignore the proven route to your office and drive on the fly, even more cautiously, as this is an unfamiliar territory.

Don’t get scared now.Don’t you know that every day many people meet with accidents and die on the road? Some died on the same route you have been driving day after day. Some accidents happen due to the driver’s fault but many others happen due to other’s fault. Can you rule out your chance of meeting with an accident in spite of your faultless driving? Can you rule it out 100%? If an accident takes place, you forget about the original goal the office building. The current goal would be a ‘Hospital building’. But in spite of that very real possibility of certain probability, you keep on driving day after day.

You have now seen that focusing on the goal is not what you do to reach your goal. You actually follow this strategy:

  • You know the sequence of steps to be followed on your journey to the goal.
  • While executing each step of the journey,  you carefully monitor the environment around you, avoiding any adversity that may distract you from your journey and delay reaching the goal. You are always focusing on the present moment.
  • At every decision point, you take the right decision and action, based on all the information you have till that point.
  • You are open to unforeseen events and take the best decisions to manage them, keep yourself alive and try your best to reach your goal.

Probably you will reach your goal finally! But not by focusing on it all the time!”

My young colleague was silent, apparently thinking about this interpretation of the scripture.

(1) The Bhagavad Gita is a Hindu scripture, well known for its spiritual message to scholars in many countries.

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