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What the hell does “trust the process” actually mean?

3 mindset tweaks to be less frustrated and achieve more.

Dominik Nitsch
9 min read
What the hell does “trust the process” actually mean?
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Men’s Lacrosse locker room, Friday night. Everyone’s drinking beer, walking around naked, pre / post shower, and having a good time with the boys. Typical Friday practice. Except for AP. He’s sitting in a corner, looking frustrated.

“Hey bro, what’s up?”, I ask. “Did you have a bad week?”

“Nah man, just a bad practice. I’m not happy with my performance”, AP replies.

We all know that feeling of not having performed well. The feeling of not having achieved our goal.

It’s frustrating as hell.

And it will happen over and over again, regardless of how well you’re prepared. No matter what goals you have, some of them you will always miss. It’s part of life.

Today, I want to share with you a few mindset changes that will help you to achieve more while being less frustrated. These tweaks can be broken down into three separate pieces:

  1. Control the controllables
  2. Be independent of the outcome
  3. Trust the process

Mindset tweak #1: Control the controllables

There are so many factors in anything you do, whether it be a practice or a game, a day at the office or a night out in the club, that you simply cannot control. And sometimes, they’ll screw you over, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In a game, you may get an unwarranted penalty from a not-so-experienced ref (a not-so-rare occurrence here in German Lacrosse). You can’t control that, and it’ll fuck with your game.

At work, you might just be about to close the deal, to sign the contract with your client — and then all the sudden, the person you were talking to doesn’t work there anymore. You can’t control that.

In the club, you might meet the girl of your dreams — beautiful, intelligent, great sense of humor. It’s clicking, and you would really like to kiss her, to go on a next date, maybe even go home with her. But she’s there with her friends that she hasn’t seen in a while, and she just broke up with her ex. You can’t control that.

The only thing you can control is how you react to those circumstances.

Yes, you got a penalty, and yes, it was the wrong call. So what? No need to get upset. Keep playing your game like it didn’t happen, and you’ll be fine.

Yes, you may not have been able to close the deal. But luckily, you have more deals in your Sales pipeline. Get to work, and start closing the next one.

Yes, you may not have kissed that wonderful girl. But you may have her phone number, and maybe on a separate occasion, you will be able to go on a date, when the logistics are better.

Control the controllables.

Some things are out of your control. Don’t waste your time on them. Focus on what is in your power to control.

Mindset tweak #2: be independent of the outcome

In the book “Never Split the Difference”, author and former FBI hostage negotiator introduces the principle of a BATNA: the “best alternative to a negotiated agreement”.

He argues that you should never enter a negotiation without a BATNA. A BATNA allows you to simply walk away from the negotiation. If you can’t walk away, you have a problem: you’re dependent on the outcome.

Imagine the following situation: you’re negotiating your starting salary for a new job. You’ve already made it through the interviews, now it’s time to negotiate the salary.

Now, there are two scenarios:

  1. you’re still under contract in your current job, which you don’t love, but isn’t that bad either.
  2. you’re currently unemployed, you won’t be able to pay next month’s rent, and your parents are up your ass to finally get a job.

In which scenario will you negotiate the better starting salary?

“Don’t jump ship until you have a ship to jump to.” — a very wise man

The answer is straightforward: in scenario 1. There, you are independent of the outcome. You don’t need the job; it’d simply be an upgrade over what you currently have. You have a great BATNA — to simply not take the job, and keep working in your old one.

In scenario 2 however, you’re dependent on the outcome. You need that job, no matter what. Or at least you think so.

There is a way to change your thinking about this, though: in the worst case, you can still move in with your parents, and while they probably wouldn’t be thrilled, they would still take you in. You don’t have to take that job. It’d be ideal, but it’s not 100% necessary.

The principle of the BATNA applies everywhere in life.

Think back — when did you meet your current partner, or your most recent significant other?

If my experience is any indication, the really good things happened at a stage in my life where everything was going well. When life is good, you’re not focused on the outcome — you’re simply focused on the enjoyment of it. You’re outcome independent. You’re not trying to force anything. Because many good things in life, like finding the right partner, the right job opportunity for you, you simply can’t force.

The principle of outcome independence holds true in any area, whether it is sports, romance, negotiation, business, or public speaking.

It is the second driving factor of success.

Sounds counterintuitive, I know. How the hell can you achieve a goal if you don’t give a shit about it in the first place?

This is where mindset tweak #3 comes in.

Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

Mindset tweak #3: trust the process.

Joel Embiid is saying it. Nick Saban is saying it. The New England Patriots are saying it. Hell, even T-Shirts are saying it.

Pretty much everyone in sports has referred to the adage of “trusting the process”.

But what does it actually mean?

I’m currently taking an online course called “Learning How To Learn” (which I can highly recommend). In the section on procrastination, the host Prof. Barbara Oakley a concept called “Process vs. Product”.

When you’re focused on a given “product”, or an outcome, things tend to loom large — so you never get started in the first place. You procrastinate, find millions of excuses not to get started. The end product is simply too audacious.

Writing a book is a good example. Try writing a book. Thousands of hours researching, writing, editing. It seems awful, almost impossible. And yet, millions of authors have written their books. How do they do it?

They don’t focus on the finished product. They simply focus on the process of sitting down to write.

The only way to write a book, according to Stephen Pressfield, author of The War of Art, is to write a fucking book. Sit down and write.

While I haven’t written my book yet, I have seen the process of sitting down to write bear its first fruits. When I started out writing on Medium on a regular basis two years ago, I did not have finished product in mind. I just wanted to have a platform where I can publish my thoughts.

Two years later, I receive between 20–50 article views per day, and at least manage to pay my membership through the money I earn with the partner program. It’s not much, but I can proudly say I’m actually being paid for my writing.

How will it look in two years? I have no idea. Nor do I care. The only thing that matters to me is putting in the hours, writing the articles I want to write. No more, no less.

What’s your biggest challenge currently? Finishing your degree? Finding a job? Healing emotional wounds?

Whatever it is, you have to trust the process.

In order to finish your degree, stop thinking about the degree. Focus on what you need to do today, tomorrow, and next week. Take your classes, and take them seriously. Do your homework. Study hard.

In order to find a job, stop thinking about the job you want. Start thinking about how you can optimize your CV. Submit your applications, and when you think you’ve submitted enough, submit some more. Prepare for your interviews.

In order to heal emotional wounds, stop thinking about when you’ll get better. Take each day in stride. Start journaling. Find things that make you happy. Time heals all wounds.

You just have to trust the process.

It’s always better to travel the road with teammates. Source:

Putting it all together

In the past year, I’ve been part of an amazing journey. I’ve been playing Lacrosse for about ten years now, and the majority of these years, I wasn’t very good. Even after six years of experience, I was still playing on the second team, not even considered for the first team (for reference — 6 years is a lot of experience for German standards, and usually there is only a first and second team).

In 2017, I went to a national team tryout for the first time, just after my first few games on a first team. I was cut, and rightfully so. My game was by no means on a national team level.

But I slowly got better. More confidence, great instruction, lots of hard work. So I wanted to try again.

Last year, I was again one of 150 hopefuls showing up to the open tryouts for the national team. I had no expectations. I just wanted to get better, and see how far I can go. That was all.

I was outcome independent.

When I received the email that I had been selected to the 70 man practice roster, I was ecstatic. Obviously that’s what I had been hoping for, but it would’ve been perfectly fine with me had I not been selected. Life goes on, you know, and I’ve got plenty of other projects in life I can tackle.

But a slight hope started creeping in. Maybe I can actually survive the next cut. Maybe I can actually go all the way to the European Championships. And when the next cut came a few weeks ago, I was anxious. Would they take me? Or not? The competition is tough. There are many other good players out there, and many of them would’ve deserved to make the next cut.

The coaches’ decision wasn’t in my control. The only thing in my control was how I presented myself at the camps, the work I put in on and off the field to become the best player I can be.

And then, after midnight, the next email came. I was part of the 38 man roster preparing for the European Championships.

I controlled the controllables, and it paid off.

During the months leading up to that email, I was putting in the work. I attended every single practice camp. I started working with a new strength coach, and have been religious about my lifting. I’m practicing Yoga every day for injury prevention. I attend every practice that I can here with my home team, and do extra on-field work.

Sometimes you have great practices, and great lifts. And sometimes they’re just flat out horrible. But that’s okay.

The thing that matters is that the work is being done. I’m trusting the process.

What’s going to happen next? Will I make the final team? I don’t know. That decision isn’t up to me.

But I will continue to work hard, to become the best possible player I can be. And when the time comes, I’ll know that I will have given everything I could give.

Now it’s your turn. What’s your next challenge?

Will you control what you can control, and let the things outside your control not influence you?

Will you be independent of the outcome, and simply appreciate what will come your way?

Will you put in the work, forget the finished product, and simply trust the process?

The only thing I have left to say is, going back to the locker room after Friday’s practice: Dear AP, it’s okay to have a bad practice. It happens to all of us.

The good thing is: you reflected on it, you did your part to control what you can control, and you put in the work.

The next practice is going to be better. And if it’s not the next, then maybe the one after. Or the one after that.

You just gotta control the controllables, be independent of the outcome, and trust the process, bro. That’s all.

Good luck.

Thanks to the coaches Bartlett Sr. and Jr. for providing some of the quotes in this article.

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