By Shaykha Shahbano Aliani
You can read Shaykha Shahbano’s poetry on her blog
Most of us are outcome focused because that is how we are conditioned. Human beings are essentially predatory, out to get something from the world to ensure (as we believe are trying to do) our survival.
When we are children, we are told that we will be rewarded if we do something ‘good’: “Eat the vegetables and you will get dessert…. Get an A on your report card and you will get a new smart phone …. Behave well at aunty’s house and you will get to visit your friend…“ And the list goes on.
Initially, it may be the only way to teach a child something useful and beneficial. You may have to bribe a child with chocolate to ensure she eats what is nutritious and beneficial for her. You may have to promise him playtime at the park so that he finishes his homework. Children do not, naturally, want to do things that are useful and beneficial. They have to be taught and disciplined, in their own interest and in order to raise a person among people, and not a wild, irresponsible, hedonistic thing.
This training, this conditioning works initially. The good child gets rewarded. The greatest of all rewards she gets is praise. The good child – the one who is disciplined and diligent and obedient, the one who does hours of boring homework, is polite and helpful to the cantankerous old aunt, and helps out around the house – is understandably beloved by adults. The good child gets recognition in academia or sports or arts. The good child also generally gets gifts and material rewards.
This conditioning, however, makes the doing of things, which are inherently beneficial and should be done for their own sake, something to endure to get to the real purpose – which is the reward. This means we learn to do things not to do them but to get them done so that we can get the reward at the end. Even if the reward is just the relief of being done.
Now if my attention is not on what I am doing but on the future, on when it is done, then the process of doing becomes as joyful as getting stuck in traffic. You never sit in a car to get stuck in traffic. You sit in a car to get somewhere. As long as you are moving easily, you can endure being in the car, but as soon as someone cuts in front of you or speeds past you or especially if there is a traffic jam, all your resentment about having to endure the car ride boils over to the surface. The more outcome focused you are, the more painful the process becomes.
We become conditioned, therefore, to expect rewards for doing things. Even when we ourselves choose to do something, we act like children – resentful and somewhat reluctant while doing it and expecting a reward when we are done.
So many adults who work hard at jobs they endure only for the pay-cheque party hard on weekends – eating and drinking to excess and sleeping late to “reward” themselves, as if they are compelled / greedy children and not adults who have freely chosen to do what they do.
Not surprisingly, over time this effort-reward system starts to break down. Firstly because the outcomes we are expected to achieve become more and more complex and beyond our individual capacity to achieve, causing us anxiety and resentment about failure. And secondly because all of life becomes a series of painful activities we must endure to get to the outcome and the reward, which are now farther and farther out of reach.
At this stage, we can either become more and more frustrated, bitter and exhausted from our attempts to control and get to outcomes that are harder to achieve, or we can choose to become conscious about our motivations and conditional motives.
Ask yourself: why am I doing what I am doing? As an adult you are not compelled or bribed by anyone other than yourself. You always have a choice. You are making the choice to work at your job. Being unemployed, and going hungry – if the only other option, is still an option. It is a choice you are refusing to make. You don’t want to risk your job. Fine, but own up to that.
Generally, no one can force you to stay in a job or a relationship or situation that you do not want to be in. You are willing to endure it to get something, for some kind of security, or because you are unwilling to take the risk of walking out into uncertainty, into what is unknown. That is fine. But own up to it. It will make you less resentful and your experience of life less onerous.
Ideally, of course, this process of self-inquiry and reflection makes us more conscious, over time, about our conditional motives, about why we choose to do what we do. Once we become conscious of our motivations, we can begin to transform conditional intent to unconditional intent. We can choose to do what is beneficial and what is appropriate for its own sake. We can choose to serve others unconditionally because by putting our attention on what we can do, what we can contribute, we become fulfilled and secure. We can choose to eat what is good for us because it is good for us and not so we can binge on chocolate later.
When we become conscious adults, we choose. And then we submit to what we have chosen. We do our best at the activity and we do it for its own sake. Doing things to do things, for their own sake, is being process focused; when we no longer care about outcomes and about rewards from achieving outcomes. Life is no longer a series of painful activities to endure to get to an increasingly elusive reward. Life becomes a series of joyfully, unconditionally done activities that deliver, each moment, the pleasurable reward because they are the reward.