Outcome Thinking for Leadership: Your Thoughts Attract Your Results

Do you know exactly what you want? Do your partners know exactly what you want? Do you know exactly what they want?

Over the years, I have been fascinated and focused on the power of outcome thinking. For instance:

  • Why do we–smart people–spend so much time dwelling on what we don’t like or don’t want instead of discovering and specifying what we do want and focusing on it?
  • Why do we–smart people–allow meetings to start without agreeing to a clear result we’re going for?
  • Why do we so frequently assume we can’t have what we want?
  • And why do we advise our charges to dream big but then tell them not get their hopes up?

Outcome thinking is a marvelous leadership tool

Salespeople ask prospects what benefits they are looking for in a product. Trainers ask participants what they want from a learning event. Coaches ask clients what results they seek in every part of their life. Doctors and nurses ask patients what end result they desire from treatment. Athletes close their eyes and envision picture perfect outcomes, every time.

Do you think there is something to this?

Outcome thinking has won the ringing endorsement of psychologists the world over

Experts say, “If you can see it, you can be it.” And the opposite is also true: if you can’t see it, you can never be it.

How outcome thinking works remains a bit of a mystery, as does much about the mind, but it isn’t hocus pocus.

Psychologists claim your mind doesn’t know the difference between an actual sensory experience and a well-imagined one (ever wake up from a bad dream in a cold sweat with your heart racing? Ever have your spouse wake up mad at you based on what s/he dreamed?).

Try this right now: Imagine walking into your favorite grocery store, the one with all the great fruits and vegetables piled up in gorgeous, well-lit displays. Head for that produce section and go for the stack of huge, shiny lemons gleaming in the bright lights. Pick up a section of the quartered lemon laying there on the sample table and wedge it into your mouth, between your teeth, and bite down…

Now, if you are like most people, that description got your mouth’s juices flowing in expectation of the citric juices squirting into your mouth. Experts say that envisioning a desired, i.e., perfect, outcome programs your body and mind to produce it that result.

The same is true about focusing on an undesired outcome — you produce it!

Some even say that whatever your mind dwells on it attracts (in a magnetic sort of way). Do you think winners expect to win? You bet! What do you think losers think about?

Take this story about a dad and a little girl learning to ride a bike. He took her to a huge, empty parking lot, a totally flat surface of many acres, and helped her onto her bike. When she got going, she saw the pole and yelled, “The pole, Daddy!” Chasing after her, he said, “Don’t look at the pole, look anywhere else but the pole!” And you know what happened. She focused on the pole, envisioned a terrible outcome that scared her, and then produced that outcome by crashing into the pole.

Of all the acreage, that pole represented the 1/10th of 1% of the parking lot space that could create a negative outcome for her. And she focused on it, and it did produce the negative outcome she feared.

Why focus on our fears when evidence suggests that’s a sure way to make them come true?

What outcomes are you creating by default because you aren’t deliberately creating and envisioning the outcomes you want? Do you even know what outcomes you want? Why not? Do you believe you could have the outcomes you want if you knew what they were?

Do you believe your team or department could ever agree on common outcomes to create together? Unless you are actively addressing these questions, you are acting by default, and your outcomes likely show it.

5-Minute Practice Tip to Build Your Outcome Thinking Muscle:

  1. Spend five minutes a day alone with your eyes closed envisioning absolutely perfect outcomes to every one of your major projects and interests.
  2. Spend another five minutes a day alone with your eyes closed envisioning all of your intentions, desires, and wants. Get into a positive (happy, joyful) emotional state and stay there through this exercise.
  3. And here’s a game you can play with partners and teammates. I call it “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Here’s how you play: While talking together about an upcoming project or opportunity, speculate about the great things that can happen by taking turns saying “wouldn’t it be cool if” and completing it with specific desired outcomes such as “the VP shows up in the middle of the best part of the demo and loves it.” No cynicism allowed.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide. Build a responsible team (or relationship) and master your leadership skills with The Leadership Gift Program for Leaders.

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2 Responses to Outcome Thinking for Leadership: Your Thoughts Attract Your Results

  1. Vin D'Amico says:

    Brilliant concept! We spend far too much time focusing on the negatives and dreading the poor outcomes. This drains our energy and enthusiasm. Without those, failure becomes more likely.

    If the big picture is overwhelming, break it down into a series of smaller goals. Focus on each one in turn. Small steps are easier to envision and control giving us the confidence we need to achieve successful outcomes.

    • Christopher says:

      Hi Vin, it is good to see your input here. Thanks so much for your addition of “thin slicing” — breaking big goals into pieces. It’s the way to go. Not only does it give us control and confidence, it is also less risky and easier to respond to change, complexity, and uncertainty. This is a critical piece of an agile mentality.

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