Why Craving “Results” Gets Us No Results


One of the most common concerns I hear from people I work with is that, when they’re trying to focus on a project at work, they find themselves worrying that what they’re doing won’t get them any meaningful results.

For example, perhaps they’re writing an article, and they find themselves worrying that no one will read it. Maybe they’re concerned that the marketing strategy they’re working on won’t create sales. Or perhaps they just keep getting the nagging feeling that there’s something more important they could be doing.

Usually, to get rid of this anxiety, people switch tasks, jumping from drafting that presentation to writing that long e-mail. Yet somehow, shortly after they start their new task, they often find the same worry arising. So, they move to yet another project.

Unfortunately, the result of all this is that people constantly jump between projects throughout the day, and get to the end of the workday without making much progress in any of their tasks.

It’s All Over Your Life

When I’m working with someone dealing with this issue, I ask them to consider the possibility that they can’t fix this problem by finding the “right” task to do. I invite them to give up the idea that, if they keep changing projects, they’ll eventually find one that feels like it’s worth their time.

Instead, I ask them to explore whether they find the worry that “this won’t get me any results” coming up in other areas of their lives. Almost always, people respond that they feel the same anxiety around their relationships, hobbies, and other aspects of their lives outside work.

For example, some people constantly fret over the intimate relationship they’re in, worrying that they’re missing out on “someone better.” They end up constantly bouncing between partners, perpetually unsatisfied.

In other words, the sense that “this won’t get results” is lurking in the background of everything they do — almost as if it’s part of the lens through which they’re seeing the entire world.

Just becoming aware of this, I’ve found, can be liberating. When we understand that the fear of “not getting results” is all over our lives, at least we can drop our stressful, futile quest for the “right” project, relationship, or activity.

Getting to Know the Fear

When someone is willing to explore this issue more deeply, I invite them to pause for a moment whenever they feel that fear of “not getting results” coming up. I ask them to stop whatever they’re doing, and put their attention on the anxiety.

I invite them to get as familiar as they can with the fear they’re feeling. Notice where it lives in the body — perhaps the throat, chest, stomach or somewhere else. Observe what it feels like — perhaps a tension, heat, chill, or something else.

If you try this, what I think you’ll see is that, the more intimate you get with a difficult feeling, the more comfortable that feeling becomes. The more you get to know that worry that “I won’t get results,” the less powerful and threatening that feeling will seem.

What’s more, the more comfortable you get with this worry, the less it will control your work habits. You’ll become able to keep moving forward in your tasks, even when that feeling is arising — and, as it turns out, get more “results” in your work.

Photo by Zach Klein

20 thoughts on “Why Craving “Results” Gets Us No Results”

  1. This article has a powerful message, although I disagree witth the heading – The heading contradicts the last paragraph… Craving Results with the correct mind set will get results. Expecting results to just happen will not happen with out the true desire and that desire is sparked from a craving – need or want. I like the article but somehow the heading does not fit?

    1. Hi Paul, in working with people I’ve found that, while they’re doing a project, many people can get paralyzed by the fear that what they’re doing won’t get the result they want — which is another way of saying their attachment to getting a certain outcome (perhaps money, recognition, or something else). This ultimately comes from a sense that, if they don’t achieve that outcome, they aren’t good enough people. When they become able to let go of that need and focus more on enjoying what they are doing, in this moment, whether it’s typing up a presentation, organizing their folders, or something else, the interesting paradox is that they find it easier to make progress in their work.

  2. Chris, thank you for your article… it came at exactly the right time for me. I went to bed last night trying to talk myself into being grateful for some small results I’d had, but really I was overwhelmingly cranky that I hadn’t got the big results I’d wanted. Your writing has made me see there are a number of areas in my life where my hard work has not yet come to fruition (two start-ups companies and a four-year old ☺) and that I often feel I will never achieve results. I think I will now be able to identify what is causing my anxiety and tension, focus on that feeling, and learn to live with it! Thanks so much.

    1. Hi Raych, it sounds like you are becoming aware that the sense that “I’m not getting results” is there in many parts of your life, and that doing more or acquiring more probably won’t make it go away. I like what you said about focusing your attention on that feeling, and perhaps even getting comfortable and familiar with it, rather than trying to use this or that activity to fill the hole.

  3. When I am getting results but not the ones that I thought I would get, then I have to dig very deep into the feelings that are there – pounce on them or I get distracted and just change tasks as you state early on in this excellent article.

    I am even thinking about washing the windows and vacuuming this morning, rather than to keep looking for grants that I can apply for and getting all the information lined up — sometimes I have to write 50 grant proposals to get nibbles and that is a hard road to take…over and over again, but then I get one that comes through – ah what a celebration that is…

    Thank you for these good words

    1. Absolutely right Patricia, carving for results results in no results. Its like, you want to get more subscribers to your blog but all you do is keep looking at your feedburner stats. That doesn’t get results of ofcourse. To get results, you’ve to act upon things that get you results.

    2. Hi Patricia — that sounds like valuable awareness — that when you’re faced with discomfort as you’re trying to work on grant applications, you tend to turn to something else, and that it can actually help you to turn your attention toward the discomfort, and perhaps get to know it a little better, and maybe even end up embracing or integrating it.

  4. Man I have that feeling so much. Excellent post. I’ve wondered why when I have coaches things get done, but on my own it feels like a struggle. That’s the reason – the doubt that the actions I take is going to produce any worthwhile results is demotivating. I can feel it in my stomach. This should help a lot so thank you very much.

    1. Hi Broderick — I like how you were able to find where the doubt is in your body — I think that’s important awareness. In my experience, when we know where the doubt, anxiety, resentment or whatever is in the body, that puts what we’re feeling into perspective — we realize that, ultimately, it’s just a sensation, and it’s not going to destroy us if we just allow it to be there without trying to do something about it.

  5. Thanks for the article. I’m one of those people who when faced with a difficult task, instead of just ‘getting on with it’, would drag their feet and keep finding other tasks or just distractions. My excuse is that ‘I need time to think about it so I don;t make any mistake’. Issupose this would fall into worrying that I won;t get meaningful results category :)

    On another note, I’d like to mention another dangerous type of craving for results I’ve came across recently while working on a project set up to analyse a problem and find solutions for improvement. One person on that project group is so convinced they know what the remedy is, he/she has invested a lot of time and effort into implementing changes already, without properly analysing the nature of the problem. He/she is CRAVING results (and I guess the glory of being The One Who Brought The Change), but I’m afraid these actions will only waste time and energy and won’t bring any meaningful results.

    1. Hi JMJast, it sounds like, when the fear of making a mistake comes up, you tend to escape from the task you’re doing. That fear sounds to me like something it could be useful to explore — maybe by asking yourself what would happen to you if you did make a mistake, and becoming aware of where that fear lives in your body and getting really familiar with what it feels like.

    1. Hi Nea — and even if we get what we want in terms of money, prestige, praise or whatever, in my experience that doesn’t satisfy the craving anyway, and so we end up on sort of a treadmill or hamster wheel.

  6. This is a very thoughtful and well-laid out post that brings the reader to explore step-by-step his internal turmoils. Worrying is largely unnecessary, yet it is very common and it can be overwhelming. Your suggestion in the approach to embrace the discomfort is helpful. I like what you said about not having worry have a hold over us, through getting comfortable with it. The energetic dissonance simply disappears when we do so.

    1. Thanks Evelyn, I liked what you said about the energetic dissonance passing away — I get the sense that a lot of sensations we consider uncomfortable can actually become comfortable, or at least easier to deal with, if we practice allowing them to be.

  7. I’ve definitely felt this way before. Lots of times a procrastinating writing a blog, or just stare at a white blank screen with a blinking cursor. Lately though I’ve realized that this time is not me being stuck on what to write it is my forum for introspection and how I structure my thoughts.

    Before I thought I was just afraid of failing, now a simple shift in thought, and I’ve realized this is how I succeed.

    Great content Chris.


    1. Thanks Chris. I think that’s a great insight — that time you spend when you’re not physically typing can actually be just as valuable as the time you spend cranking out words. Some teachers even say that “empty” moments where there’s no activity and the mind is free of thought are the only moments when intuition can come up.

  8. Hi Chris .. it’s finding that way to focus and get done what can be done – before the gremlins creep in … perhaps drafting out a post, preparing some work – then having a change with time to think through the project, however small .. then come back and get on with tidying up the work.

    I do so much in my head .. and yet I write well when it’s flowing here .. it’s finding the right mix – and perhaps technology apps .. eg a recorder – that help us remember: I am at that cross roads of needing to clarify this side of my life.

    I don’t crave the results – I know I have to do the work first, and other work that will come along the way .. thanks – love everyone’s comments .. Hilary

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