#7 Growing Trees

Outcome Bias Strikes Again

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Nic Peterson

"Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago"

- Warren Buffet

The problem we have with planting trees, of course, is that they take so damn long to grow. But they don't have to.

There are two ways to look at planting this metaphorical tree; a bias toward the process or a bias toward the outcome. As explained here, an outcome bias is incredibly dangerous and has dynamic internal and external consequences that reach far and wide. A process bias, on the other hand, has tangible and intangible benefits the most importantly, when you adopt a process orientation the finish line comes to you.

"The Grass Is Always Greener"

Well, yes. If you are more focused on everyone else's grass not only will always appear greener, but many times it will be greener. The universe is unfair, I know. But let's pretend for a moment that you and I both want to grow tree (since growing grass could be easily misinterpreted to mean something else).

You have an outcome bias or goal orientation, so from the get-go your stance is:

"I want the tallest, greenest bestest tree in all of the land"


Understanding that the process is the shortcut and the dangers of an extreme orientation I take a different stance:

"I want to become really good at growing trees"


We will likely start out the same the next day; we will plant our seeds in the most appropriate spot to facilitate growth, and be sure to water our trees.

And this is where our paths diverge.

You won't be happy until you have the tallest, greenest tree in town.
I will be happy every chance I get to get better at growing my tree.

We both know rowing a tree is going to take a long time. You have chosen to be, on some level, unhappy for years by approaching it with an outcome bias or goal orientation. I have given myself an opportunity to be happy daily.

This is not insignificant.

Remember our friends, Time and Randomness?

As time passes unexpected things happen. They always have and they always will. When something unexpected happens, especially when our trees are not growing as fast as expected:

You have a meltdown. Reality is not meeting expectations and you're so focused on how far away the finish line, you're likely to boil over and kick your tree, stomp around the yard, decide that tree growing is frustrating and take a few days off to reduce the stress of the tree not growing at the pace you expected.

Me? Well, what a great opportunity to get better at growing trees. I would be inspecting the logic, reasoning, and evidence behind why reality does not meet expectations and adjusting my process accordingly.

At this point, we may have very similar trees, but I have a distinct and significant advantage:

I'm getting better and improving my process while you're walking in circles stressed that you don't have the tallest tree in all the land. I am finding enjoyment and falling in love in the process while you sit wallowing in stress and anxiety, and thinking about quitting tree growing altogether.

You're in love with an outcome, stressing over how far away the finish line is. And because you're so focused on the outcome, you are not improving the process that would actually get you there.

You're more likely to quit, take a couple of days off or blow it up altogether (frequency of exposure). You're less likely to improve the process because you're not focused on it at all.

In other words, even though you are more focused on the goal, I have a higher probability of having a taller, greener tree.

Even in the unlikely case that you push through and we both have tall, green trees, you've tortured yourself to get there and I've had a lot of fun. What felt like forever to you, seems to have happened so quickly to me. The same end result, an entirely different impact on our lives.

It won't be long until you start complaining that I have a taller tree and now seem to be able to grow them effortlessly. Then, you'll find a new goal and repeat this whole thing again. and again. and again.


You can learn to fall in love with the process; of getting better every day instead of wishing you were already good.

Focus on the process, not the goal. Examine the logic, reasoning, and evidence behind the process, not the day-to-day outcome.

The finish line will come to you.

The Process Is The Shortcut.


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