About 12 years ago, I was ready to take the next step in my career. I’d worked for a few years as a software developer at SAP’s offices in Palo Alto, California, and was interested in joining the evening MBA program at the University of Berkeley. I met a high-ranking executive who had kindly agreed to give me a letter of recommendation that would bolster my application.
This executive seemed calm, generous and willing to listen. I told him I was pleasantly surprised that he seemed unhurried—quite relaxed and that I appreciated that he’d taken the time to talk with me. He replied quite simply that although he was very busy and productive, he’d managed to avoid anxiety and stress throughout his career.
Naturally, I was curious. I asked him how he managed to be both successful and peaceful.
His answer surprised me with its brevity and elegance.
“I’m not preoccupied with results,” he said, “I’m focused on the process.”
It took me years before I began to understand the full significance of what he shared with me. The executive hadn’t seemed like much of a spiritual man. However, what he shared with me that day has its roots in one of the most ancient spiritual laws of Hinduism and Buddhism: non-attachment to the result leads to clear thinking and action. You can become more effective at what you do in life. You can maximize the results of your work.
Here are three techniques I have used – and you can, too, to boost your effectiveness at work.
- Keep a clear goal in mind, but have no attachment to the result.
This sounds contradictory, but just bear with me. Let’s say your goal is to become the #1 salesman in your city. In accordance with your goal, you’ve set up a plan of action. While working your plan, you’ll likely have thoughts such as, ”Will I make that big sale?” “What happens if I fail to make my numbers?” “If I do make it, how much money will I make?” “How will I celebrate after I hit my goal?” Thoughts like these will cloud your judgment and prevent you from thinking clearly and working effectively. Instead, focus solely on the process, on the task at hand. Fall in love with your tasks. Be “preoccupied with the process”, not the result.
Do not get me wrong. Am I suggesting that you shouldn’t care about the results and adopt a careless attitude? No. You still need to care for the result, but don’t be attached. What does it mean by being not attached? It means you don’t think about ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ or ‘mine.’ You simply focus on the work and the welfare it will bring about to the larger public.
- Be concerned about helping others, not solely about your needs and ego.
We work for our own benefit, as well as for the benefit of our families. That is natural; we need to do so in order to ensure our survival. I am not suggesting that you ignore your personal needs. What I’m proposing is this: think a little less of your own needs, and a little more of the other person’s welfare. John Wooden, arguably the greatest coach of all time, said: “Help others. While your motivation for helping others should not depend on others helping you back, it is surely true that you will receive back more help when you give. Think of this: if we all practiced helping others, we all would be helped and we surely all need help at some point in our lives!”
- Dedicate your work to God, that higher power, your faith, or whatever you believe in.
You ask an average man, “Why do you work?” and he’s likely to answer, “How stupid can you be? Of course I want to put food on the table!” If you counter with: “No, what I meant is, what else do you seek aside from compensation?” he’d probably say, “Well—success, wealth, perhaps a name—or just retire and live well.” Now, if you ask the same question to a great man—a visionary, leader, benefactor of society—he’s likely to answer: “I work because it’s my dharma to work. Aside from the compensation, I work because it’s my duty to cure illnesses as a doctor, or devise solutions to transportation problems as a civil engineer, or entertain people as an artist, sportsperson or actor. What I seek from my work is just the satisfaction of a job well done. Whatever else flows from it—money, fame, or recognition—is secondary; it’s welcome, but it’s not my goal.”
When you dedicate the fruit of your work to God, you won’t have any sensual attachment to the result of your work. Attachment to the result breeds anger (if the desired result is not achieved) or turmoil of the mind (happy if achieved and sad if not). Having no attachment means you’ll be liberated; you’ll achieve peace, calm and happiness. When you perform your work with an attitude of liberation, your actions gain potency; you achieve remarkable effectiveness. “To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive”, asserts the Bhagavad Gita.
If you have a spiritual basis for doing what you do, I believe you’ll achieve much success, touch many lives and enjoy life to the fullest. You’ll reduce your anxiety and stress. You’ll also achieve the highest goal of life: not money nor name, not even happiness, but simply this: peace.