Follow the process

“To me, success looks like faithfulness.”  Kelly Clark, Olympic snowboard medalist

Last summer, about this time, several of us were training for a fall marathon, and this training called for us to run long distances in the soup-like North Carolina heat. For three weeks in a row, I ran with a friend and we did not meet our time goal. In fact, my friend because nauseated each time and I wasn’t exactly the picture of fitness either.

On the fourth week, we agreed on two things: 1) We would run only as fast as her heart-rate allowed within reason; 2) We would not worry about our time goal. That week, we had a breakthrough. Not only did we make it through the distance, but we enjoyed the experience. At that point, I reminded her that we were already successful because we had followed the process we had chosen. The fourth week may have seemed like a win, but it was the whole sequence which determined our success.

In his book, The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday relates the philosophy of Nick Saban, coach of the successful Alabama Crimson Tide football team: “Follow the Process”. Every activity is based on the simple notion, “What can we do today? What can we do in this drill? In this block? On this play?” This simple philosophy has worked well.

Process provides the way (the path) toward your goal. While you always want to be aware of your goal, you get there in discrete, small steps. Faithfulness to the process is how you get there. Whether you are focused on achievement, or making it through a difficult situation, the process is the same.

The process can help you avoid panic. You just do the next step and you do it as well as possible. When you’re facing more work than you think you can handle, when the list of tasks is inordinately long, when you are on the edge of being overwhelmed…you just do the next thing, and do it as well as you can.

One way to do this is to develop habits and rituals to keep you on track. For example, every day, I list 1-3 things which were good about that day. I take 5-10 minutes of quiet to be grateful. I make it a point to visit each one of the people I manage at work. I send 1-2 notes of encouragement to friends. These are just my habits; yours need to work well for you.

Martha Beck wrote, “When nervous stop & relax for three full breaths. Next take one small step, then another. That is how people get to the top of Everest.”

It’s likely that you will need to remind yourself of this in your personal and professional life in the future. Personally, maybe you will be planning a wedding, buying a house, or dealing with the declining health of a parent. Professionally, maybe you will have multiple conflicting priorities, a seemingly impossible deadline, or a work-life balancing problem. When this happens, keep in mind: Follow the process.