In his autobiography, Bryan Cranston (Walter White of the renowned Breaking Bad) described the lesson he learned that helped him go from an average actor to an extraordinary one. Here’s what he wrote:
“Early in my career, I was always hustling. Doing commercials, guest-starring, auditioning like crazy. I was making a decent living…but I felt I was stuck in junior varsity. I wondered if I had plateaued. Then, Breck Costin [his mentor] suggested I focus on process rather than outcome.
I wasn’t going to the audition to get anything: a job or money or validation. I wasn’t going to compete.
I was going to give something.
I wasn’t there to get a job. I was there to do a job. I was there to give a performance. If I attached to the outcome, I was setting myself up to expect, and thus to fail. My job was to be compelling. Take come chances. Enjoy the process.”
Cranston went on to say after he made this mindset shift, he felt much more relaxed and free. There was no longer any pressure, because the outcome was irrelevant. “Once I made the switch, I had power in any room I walked into,” he wrote. “Which meant I could relax. I was free.”
Soon after this shift, Cranston was offered a role in the wildly popular Malcolm in the Middle, for which he was nominated for 3 Emmy awards. He is now one of the most respected and well-known actors in the world.
What would it do for you if you could walk into any room and feel relaxed and free?
How would it feel to have power in any situation you walked into?
What would happen if you could live your life with no pressure, free to achieve any goal you wanted?
Ordinary people focus on the outcome. But extraordinary people focus on the process. This is how they achieve such enormous goals.
Pressure is Imagined
Pressure isn’t real — it’s just the stress you put on yourself in your head. Pressure is the result of limitations we put on ourselves to produce outcomes we don’t control. When we focus on the outcome, we begin to expect things out of our control, which sets us up for failure.
Here’s a personal example.
Back when I used to work as a telemarketer, I was under extreme stress every day. I was making 250+ calls a day to random strangers (most of whom had already told me “No, I don’t want to buy your products, stop calling me.”). My boss was constantly breathing down my neck, demanding to know why I hadn’t made more sales. He constantly implied he was about to fire me.
After months of this, I began to believe a false reality: that I could make people buy something. If only I said the right thing, in the right way, at the right time. At least, that’s what my boss claimed.
I wasn’t until nearly 2 years later I finally quit that awful job and left my manipulative boss that I realized: “That’s not true. I can’t make anyone do anything.” All that pressure I had been putting on myself was imagined. I had made it all up in some sick effort to “motivate” myself.
You don’t need to pressure yourself to compete, to win, to come out on top.
Because the truth is, you don’t control the outcome. You don’t control anything — except yourself. The only parts you truly have control over are your attitude, your mindset, and your actions. The rest is out of your control.
There’s a quote I heard in my many years of therapy and counseling:
“My serenity is inversely proportional to my expectations. The higher my expectations of other people are, the lower is my serenity.”
The higher your expectations — for your job, the people around you, the outcome — the lower your serenity. The more you expect things to happen in ways you don’t control, the more stress and pressure you’ll experience.
This is a hard lesson. I don’t expect many people to get it right away. I’ve heard that phrase for years and still have a hard time with it.
That’s OK. Fundamental mindset shifts like this take time. If it doesn’t make sense now, don’t worry about. If there’s one thing I encourage you to consider: pressure is imagined. You don’t control the outcome, so don’t even try. Instead, focus on what you can control: yourself, your attitude, and your actions.
Once you understand pressure is imagined, nothing can phase you on your path to mastery. You can achieve enormous goals with simple ease.
“Ignore what other people are doing. Ignore what’s going on around you. There is no competition. There is no objective benchmark to hit. There is simply the best you can do — that’s all that matters.” -Ryan Holiday
The True Mark of a Champion is a Commitment to the Craft
“Champions aren’t made in the ring, they are merely recognized there.” -Joe Frazier, Heavyweight World Champion
Anyone who relies solely on luck, talent, or prestige doesn’t understand this lesson, and will suffer for it.
The best professionals were, at one point, pretty bad. Everything is difficult before it becomes easy.
True champions, however, don’t rely on luck. They don’t wait for inspiration to train or do the work. They just do it. By focusing on the process — doing the work, day in and day out — they become stronger, faster, more focused, and more skilled. A quote by prolific British writer Somerset Maugham comes to mind:
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
When you focus on the outcome, you stunt your growth. You lose focus on the here-and-now. True champions focus on the process. They know champions aren’t made in the ring — they’re made in the practice arena, every day for months before.
The Boston Globe once studied a typical day for Olympic snowboarders. The athletes are “up at dawn, stretch, watch a video of the previous day, hit the slopes till lunch, go to class, do more conditioning, eat dinner, and then go to study hall for an hour and a half. At most, they get about an hour of ‘free time’ a day, but it’s usually used for homework.”
These athletes went on to become the best in the world at their craft. They became champions long before they start their first Olympic competition; they are champions because they practiced every day.
This motivation is what keeps them going through the tedious repetition, day in and day out. In Anders Ericcson’s famous book Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise, Ericcson says,
“At its core, practice is a lonely pursuit.”
Commitment to the craft can be lonely, boring, and tedious. It often is.
But this is the difference between good and bad writers, snowboarders, CEO’s, singers, and jugglers — the good ones practice consistently. They focus on the process of getting better, every single day.
The bad ones don’t.
Ordinary people focus on the outcome. Extraordinary people focus on what they can control — the process.
“Every day, check these 4 boxes: Have I improved 1% on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health?” -James Altucher
Why Most People Won’t Achieve Their Goals
“Many people think in terms of ‘I have to do what my colleague/neighbor/family member is doing’ instead of ‘I have to do what’s best for me.’” -Grant Cardone
Many people are at their jobs today with one goal: to beat the other guy.
Maybe it’s to beat the competition. Maybe it’s to beat your cubicle-mate Richard for the promotion. Maybe it’s to beat your boss’ low expectations of you. Maybe it’s to beat your more successful sibling. Maybe it’s to have something cool to say when your high school reunion comes around.
Very few people are focused on winning the only game worth winning: beating your former self.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote:
“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self.”
When you focus on the outcome, you prevent yourself from fully immersing in the process — studying your craft, honing your skills, perfecting your form. If all you want to do is beat the other guy, you allow yourself only a fraction of your abilities.
This was me for a long time. In middle school, I wanted to beat every other guy in the race for cutie Kimberly Romero’s affection (I didn’t win). In high school, all I wanted to do was beat Bryan Cardoza for the starting spot on the basketball team (I never did). In college, I wanted to graduate faster than my sister. (We graduated at the same time.)
But focusing on the outcome meant I rarely honed my craft. I almost never stuck my head down and just worked. I was always thinking of what “the other guy” was doing. I was more focused on how much better everyone else looked than how I was actually progressing.
Last year, I finally started focusing entirely on the process: my writing. I stopped jealously looking at other writers and their followings. I stopped looking at my page views and just wrote.
I wrote every day for a month. I studied top-tier writers — their word counts, quotes-per-article, headline, article structure, etc. I became a student of my craft. I became a fanatical learner.
That’s when my writing quality actually increased from mediocre to decent. People started reading my stuff regularly. I got followers. Soon, I was getting 1000’s of subscribers every month. I started averaging 10,000’s of views each month. Then 100,000+ every month. It’s been steady ever since.
This was only possible because I stopped worrying about the outcome, and turned all my focus towards the process.
This is why most people won’t achieve their goals — because they are too focused on beating the competition instead of actually working to hone their craft and become elite at what they do. If this is you, it’s OK. We’ve all been there. But it’s up to you to shift your attention away from others and focus entirely on the only thing that truly matters: being a better you than you were yesterday.
It’s way easier to focus on the outcome.
It’s easier. It’s familiar. Everyone knows how to do it. It’s much harder to ignore the competition, keep your nerve, and stare in the face of possible failure as you work on yourself.
But the outcome is out of your control. As long as that’s your focus, you’ll continue to waste precious energy on an outcome you can’t control.
This is why most people will fall short on their dreams; they’re too exhausted from trying to look better than the other guy. Their focus is on the wrong priority.
It’s not easy. But when you choose to focus on the process — your attitude, your actions, your mindset — you shift your focus onto the things you can control. That’s what will upgrade you from ordinary to extraordinary.