Process Over Outcome: You Should NOT Be Focused On Paying Off Debt

If your focus is to pay off debt, you may be focusing on the wrong thing and headed down the path of failure. This is the conclusion I’ve come to after listening to countless hours of motivational speakers combined with a handful of books I’ve read recently written by people who struggled their way to success. They all say the same thing, and unless they got together and decided on a common underlying message, maybe there’s something to their method.  What they emphasize is actually quite simple; focus on the process, not the outcome.

To be successful, focus on the process not the product.

A person can have many financial goals. One that has been discussed a lot here on Enemy Of Debt is how to get out of debt. Paying off your debt, getting the number down to zero, is the outcome. It’s an admirable (even necessary) goal, but it shouldn’t be your main focus. Whether you’ve paid off all your debt, or are eliminating it as quickly as you had hoped should not define you nor should it be the measure of your success.

Instead of placing your focus on the outcome of getting out of debt, instead focus on the process. In this case the process is successfully managing your finances. Through the process of managing your finances successfully, you will be able to achieve the outcome. Here are some of the aspects of successfully managing your finances:

  • Track spending
  • Evaluate expenses and cut those that provide little or no value
  • Make a spending plan or budget
  • Contribute to an emergency fund
  • Increasing income

The difference between focusing on paying off debt vs successfully managing your finances is control.

Think of what could happen if my focus was paying off debt. Whether I can eliminate all or a predetermined amount of debt in a month is not necessarily under my control. I could do everything in the process correctly, but then find out I need to spend $600 for new tires on my car, or maybe I became ill and accumulated medical bills. If I’m focused on the outcome of paying off debt, I failed. I see myself as a failure and become discouraged. I may give up and just accept that I will always be in debt.

Look again at the list of actions to successfully manage one’s finances. Each of them is a specific action that a person has control over whether they do it or not. If I do all of these things, I know I’m doing what I should be doing to be successful. Sometimes I’ll fail, but I can easily identify actions that I can take to do better the next time.

By focusing on the process, I can easily see what actions I can take to get better. Example: I overspent this month because I didn’t follow my budget. Next month I’ll stick to my budget. I can take action to perfect the process. Alternatively, if I’m focused on the goal of paying off debt and I’m unable to due to medical bills, there’s no actionable behavior to change. I have no control over whether I get sick or not. I should simply accept that was not under my control, and continue to focus on following the process knowing that if I follow it consistently, eventually the desired outcome (paying of debt) will occur.

Focusing on the process instead of the product. Putting your energy into what you can control over what you can’t. It sounds easy, but it’s a dramatic shift in perspective. If you can do it, it could be the difference between success and failure.

Are you focusing on your product, and not the process? Can you think of a time you focused on the product, got frustrated, and quit?

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3 Responses to “Process Over Outcome: You Should NOT Be Focused On Paying Off Debt”

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  1. Fantastic points! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I can and cannot control, and where I should focus my time and effort. I think this post hits the nail on the head in regards to debt payoff.

    One can work their asses off to pay off debt, but then one thing’ll happen and it’s all gone down the toilet. But, if the goal is to manage money well, then that’s a much more easily achievable goal.

  2. Travis,
    Yes, focusing on the routines that get you out of debt versus the outcome is key. If someone takes pride in the process of budgeting and cutting expenses of no value then they will surely become debt free over time. When I was paying off my mortgage all I could think about was making that next big payment and I become frustrated with any expense that came along unexpectedly. If I had trusted in the process the frustration may not have been as intense.

  3. Lisa says:

    Interesting way of thinking of debt payoff. Getting out of debt is just like any other huge goal – it can consume your life and negatively impact other aspects of your financial health. You’re right, focusing on the entire process of financial health is a better way instead of being so laser focused on debt payoff.

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