Learning to Live Without the Result

letting go

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the idea of focusing your life on the things that can make you happy without making progress. The idea there is not that progress is bad or that we should all learn to simply accept things the way they are. Rather it’s that if we can enjoy something without worrying about the result, even if the result is important, I think we’ll find ourselves happier and more satisfied with our lives on a regular basis.

This is a topic that came up in another way in the Stacking Benjamins podcast episode I was fortunate to participate in this past Monday. The focus of the segment was on the importance of taking a zen-like approach to investing, where you put your faith in the process and let the constant ups and downs of the market wash over you without effect.

This idea ties in really well the idea of being happy without progress, and it really made me think back to how I personally want to grow in this respect. With investing, this is something I actually have mastered pretty well. But in other areas of my life, such as blogging, I’ve found myself focused far too much on the result, to the point where I feel like it’s a detriment to both the quality of my work and my enjoyment of it.

So today I want to compare and contrast my approaches in these two domains so we can further explore this idea of living a life without concern about the result.

Investing – the lure of the almighty return

In the podcast I was asked whether I personally approach my own investments with the zen philosophy we were discussing. Being the inexperienced podcaster that I am I unintentionally dodged the question, but reflecting back on it I believe I do.

First of all, I have an investment plan that is tailored to both my long-term goals and my emotional make-up. This plan defines the process that I follow, and it’s a plan that through experience and education I’ve learned to be happy with regardless of its current level of performance.

But beyond that, I’ve been able to incorporate a process of tracking my returns in a way that is both productive and emotionless. Every Monday I log into my accounts and update a spreadsheet that tracks both the balance and return of each investment I have (four mutual funds in total), as well as the performance of my investment portfolio as a whole. For me, this process serves two purposes:

  1. It lets me keep tabs on the potential need to rebalance my investments to keep them in line with my desired asset allocation. This helps me stay on track with my plan.
  2. From a pure interest standpoint, I think it will be fascinating to have this history so that years down the road I can look back and really see the ups and downs of my strategy.

So with investing, I’m able to track my results to achieve a specific purpose that helps me stay on track towards my end goals. Beyond that, I’ve managed to successfully watch the results in an emotionally detached manner, so that the regular ups and downs have really no affect on my feelings toward the process and certainly have no role in changing my approach.

Blogging – chasing those stats

Blogging is an area where I have a long way to go before achieving the kind of zen I have with investing. As I’ve delved deeper and deeper into the world of blogging (for those who don’t know, this thing goes DEEP), I’ve found myself becoming more and more obsessed with the number of people coming to my site. Multiple times per day I check up on my stats, and the snapshot picture at that random point in time can have a significant effect on my mood and my opinion of whether my recent efforts were worthwhile.

If I compared this to investing, this would be like logging into my investment accounts every few hours to see if I had made or lost money since the last time I logged in, and then feeling good or bad about my long-term plan as a result. THAT WOULD BE CRAZY!!!

I do think there is value in understanding large trends with my blog traffic. If my goal is truly to help as many parents as possible take control of their financial situation, then I need to get better at reaching large numbers of people and analyzing my traffic stats can help with that. But the way I’m doing it now is not productive. I’m letting short-term movements dictate my emotions and subsequent behavior. Where I want to get to is a place where, like with my investment strategy, I have a long-term plan that dictates my process, and my stats are simply one tool I use to help keep me on track with that plan.

But before I can get there I need to get rid of the emotional pull that they currently have. How do I do that? I learn to live without the result. For the entire month of October I’m going to completely ignore my stats and instead focus on my process. I want to write high-quality articles. I want to engage with my readers and other bloggers. I want to push myself to reach new audiences by writing for other sites. In other words, I want to focus on the things that really matters, which are improving my message and expanding the ways I’m putting it out there.

What’s the lesson here?

In the end, with both investing and blogging, the results actually DO matter. I’m investing my money now so that I have enough money later in my life to be free from the need to work. I’m creating this site with the goal of helping as many people as possible build themselves a strong financial future. In both cases, the end result is important to me and without it the endeavor will feel somewhat empty.

But I cannot control the end result. All I can control is the process I use to get there. So in the meantime I’m learning to let go of the result. If I can learn to live without it, I can focus on building a life where the result takes care of itself simply because I’m enjoying the work along the way.

What’s something in your life that you find yourself focusing on more than you’d like? What would it be like to completely let go of it for a period of time?

Photo courtesy of Dean Croshere

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40 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • I used to read too many of our stats on a regular basis – I had a spreadsheet that I updated once per week, but I would look at them almost every day because I kept the tabs open in my browsers. Well, Mr PoP changed those tabs so they don’t open automatically and I stopped looking at them. I pop in once per month or so now (sometimes less often) and the stats keep doing their thing while life goes on.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Sounds like Mr. PoP is on to something. I think they can be used productively, but taking a break and getting away from the emotional aspect of it is the right step for me right now.

  • Alexa Mason October 4, 2013

    A few months back I did the same exact thing. I was getting obsessive with stats so I didn’t check them for a month. The obsession is gone. I don’t even care about my stats now. I probably check them once a month out of curiosity.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      That’s exactly where I’m trying to get to. I think taking a break from something like this is one of the best things you can do.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules October 4, 2013

    Great correlation between the two Matt! I do something similar with my investing and my blogging is another story. It’s just so easy to check the numbers and being a numbers guy can be very tempting to check on. That said, I don’t really obsess over them, and really have tried to force myself to only dig deep into them once every few weeks or once a month so I can gauge what the bigger picture is.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I’d like to get to a point where, similar to my investing process, I check in on them on some regular basis with a specific purpose in mind. But I want to help myself separate from them first.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer October 4, 2013

    Good for you, Matt. We feel this way about our debt often. We just choose to do what we can do and let the rest go. The first few months we were so hell bent on seeing progress that it was stressing us out. Now that we’ve taken a more “let it go” approach, life is much more relaxed. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Nice work! Once you know that your process is good you should be able to stop worrying about the short-term indicators of “success”. Big picture trends are helpful when used correctly, but too much focus can be detrimental.

  • Holly Johnson October 4, 2013

    I don’t pay much attention to our blog stats…I never have. It seems like a lost cause. As long as they’re always heading in an upward trend, I don’t worry about it.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I think that monitoring the big-picture trends as you allude to is important. The problem is in the day-to-day or even hour-to-hour monitoring where you’re just letting a lot of noise make you crazy.

  • Michelle October 4, 2013

    Chasing blog stats is a waste of time. Yes, I do look at my stats at least once a day, but looking at it anymore than that would just drive me nuts!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Even once a day I think is too often for me, at least for now. I think my eventual goal is probably once per month or at most once per week, but with a specific purpose in mind.

  • moneystepper October 4, 2013

    Although I think its important to use results to make future decisions, over focussing on them at a micro level can certainly be detrimental to productivity and long-term decision making. I think everyone was slightly obsessed with stats in both investing and site traffic at some point!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      That’s exactly my thinking. Eventually I would like to start using big picture numbers in a productive way, but to get there I just want to let go for a little while so I can forget about getting caught up in the micro-level details that really don’t matter.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar October 4, 2013

    You can certainly drive yourself crazy looking at stats all the time. I used to do that, but ultimately decided that I am going to write what I feel and not write to increase traffic. If I can do both, great. Someday I might start another site and do it strictly by the book to drive stats, but I can’t do that with my blog right now. It’s to personal.

    Now at my office, I do check the daily receipts and try to track what brings in a busy sales day. It’s usually word or mouth referrals or sometimes when another office does something stupid that we can take advantage of. I think those stats are very important to pay attention to so that I don’t waste money on the wrong type of marketing plan.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      For your business, have you found a specific interval at which it’s most helpful to monitor those things? Do you think that checking daily is more helpful than weekly or even monthly? I’d love to hear your thoughts on why one is better than the other for you specifically.

  • Done by Forty October 4, 2013

    I similarly check in on my blog stats daily (okay, several times daily). I don’t know why, as my blog isn’t monetized…more visitors doesn’t mean more money…just more people reading, I suppose. Like you said though, that’s outside our control. The twelve step message of focusing on the things we can control, & not those that we cannot (& figuring out the difference) is a helpful approach in the theme of this post.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Yep, that mantra is spot on. That’s pretty much exactly what I’m trying to do here.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money October 4, 2013

    I used to really pay attention to my blog stats, now I try to avoid checking them unless an advertiser specifically asks about them. I would say my blogging is very focused on the results. If I wasn’t making money or moving forward, I would re-adjust my efforts. I definitely understand your point, though, and I try not to obsess over results. If I make a solid plan and stick to it long-term usually things work out.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I think a focus on results with a specific purpose in mind can be a big benefit, depending on your end goal. My end goal would be to be able to use my stats in a defined and purposeful way, but I’m very far from there. Right now I just need to break away.

  • Shannon Ryan October 4, 2013

    Like you, I’m pretty zen with investments; I try to walk the walk that I preach to my clients. 🙂 As a numbers person, it’s easy to get a little too absorbed in the blogging stats, especially in the beginning when they were dismal. Now I just try to do an occasional check to see that they growing (thankfully they are) and spot any trends.

  • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma October 4, 2013

    My job doesn’t really require a while lot of thought. When I think about it too much, I tend to get unhappy. But when I remember to simply let go, I am much happier. Where has over-analyzing everything gotten me? Not very far.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I can definitely get trapped in the cycle of over-thinking things as well. It’s usually not a helpful place to be.

  • Nick @ ayoungpro.com October 4, 2013

    Pretty sure I just had an “a-ha” moment when I was reading your thoughts on blogging. I am guilty of checking my stats waaaaaay to often. I need to think more in the long-term, like you mentioned. Thanks Matt!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      Glad I’m not alone! It’s only gotten worse for me as the stats have gotten better too, which isn’t a good trend.

  • Charles@Gettingarichlife October 4, 2013

    I used to track my investments daily, with the wild swings over the past few years it would affect my mood. When you’re looking at thousands of dollars in daily changes in a volatile market it was stupid stress. So now I check it once a week and be done with it.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      It definitely doesn’t make sense to get caught up in the ups and downs with investing. It’s so much less stressful and more beneficial to recognize them as simply part of the deal.

  • krantcents October 4, 2013

    Last year, I was focusing on the numbers regarding my blog, but getting poor results! I changed my focus and my numbers are improving, not all of them, but I am making progress.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      That’s kind of what I figure, that if I simply spend more energy focusing on other things then the numbers will take care of themselves.

  • Lance@MoneyLife&More October 4, 2013

    Checking blog stats constantly was very addicting for me. I was constantly growing and then once I started declining I quit paying as much attention. I’m growing again, but I don’t check stats anywhere near as often as I used to. I’m glad that went away during the downturn and has for the most part stayed away.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 4, 2013

      I think that completely disconnecting for a little while, as you did, will help me approach them with a better perspective going forward. At least that’s my hope.

  • Jacob @ iHeartBudgets October 5, 2013

    I’ve been a stat chaser, but realized it was sucking my energy. I still check my stats, but don’t let it affect me like it used to. Sure, a great day is fun and all, but as long as I keep my oroginal goal in mind (which is almost the same as yours), then at the end of the day, I’m doing what I set out to do. Great comparison to investing!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 6, 2013

      Sounds like you’re already at where I’d like to get to. It’s nice to just let it go for a little while.

  • Simon | Modest Money October 6, 2013

    If I were to argue this purely logically, blog stats ought not to matter at all. If your stated reason for running the blog is to help people, then even if you are reaching ten people, thats surely helping and in a way you are reaching your goal and should be all Zen-like. Well, it certainly would be great if you could help even more people.
    At the back of most of our minds though, a blog also serves another purpose, to make some money. Come to think of it some are run almost purely as businesses, to mint cash…in this case stats matter, a lot.
    That said, am also weaning myself of the obsessive stat-tracking…keep doing the right things and more often than not stats will improve (I suppose).

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 6, 2013

      I think it all depends on your goals. The stats can be an incredibly important source of information and can be used very productively. Based on the things I think I’d like to achieve, eventually I’d like to be able to use them as a way to gauge my progress. But it’s not helpful when they’re simply an obsession that effects short-term emotions. That’s what I want to move away from.

  • Tonya October 6, 2013

    Every once in awhile I fall back into that same pattern, I think especially if another blogger is talking about their amazing stats that I haven’t achieved. I wonder how I can do better! But sometimes I do think I’m really give it all I can give, so I need to let go of that as well. Another area and somewhat related is focusing on what other people are doing. My biggest demon in life I think. So for me the easiest thing would be to stay off FB as much as possible. Easier said then done.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 7, 2013

      I agree, hearing some of the awesome things other people have going on can get me quickly clicking over to see if I’ve had some magical jump in popularity. I haven’t quite figure out yet why those things never seem to be correlated.

  • MoneySmartGuides October 7, 2013

    Great analogy with investing. The more you can ignore the short-term ups and downs, the better off you will be in the long run. Investing in the stock market works. For those that say it doesn’t are the ones the constantly are buying and selling trying to chase returns or avoid losses. I lost 50% of my retirement money during the 2008 crash but I kept it invested and three years later, I ended up having more than before the crash…and that’s before taking into account all of the money I continued to invest during the crash.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney October 8, 2013

      Great example of the importance of sticking with your strategy through the low points. If you had sold out and waited for “the right time” to get back in, you would certainly be behind where you are now.

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