The process is the goal

Have we become obsessed with ‘goals’? What if we celebrated the process rather than the results?


The Stoics emphasise a focus on what is within our control. Achieving goals is usually dependent upon externalities: we can be perpetually frustrated despite our best efforts.

“So in life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control.”

Epictetus, Discourses – Book II, 5

Even realising one’s ultimate goal often results in a feeling of emptiness after the initial euphoria has subsided.

How do Olympians feel after finally winning gold? How do mountaineers feel after finally conquering Everest? What is left after that?

“As it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy.”

Aristotle

Most of us may never reach such heights. Should we aim for the stars anyway, or set our sights on more realistic goals?

Maybe it is neither, and we should only hold ourselves accountable for our progress towards something meaningful.

Making a small step forward each day is entirely within our control. And the small steps add up.

Do not waste time gazing up at the mountain, frozen by its enormity and the seemingly insurmountable distance to the summit.

Instead focus on the path in front of you. One step at a time. Steady and purposeful.

We have to try as hard as we can and direct our efforts to worthy causes. But we must not get too caught up in the outcomes of our efforts.

“Be calm and composed, because things in themselves don’t matter.”

Epictetus, Discourses – Book II, 5

Epictetus, one of the most prominent Stoics, taught that ‘good’ or ‘bad’ can only relate to that which is under your control. Outcomes therefore can be neither good nor bad as they are dependent upon externalities.

Be guided by a greater purpose, rather than a specific achievement or attainment of something. And if your best efforts are dedicated toward its pursuit every day, you can be content.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s