Focus Training for Sports Articles

What Is Outcome-Oriented Thinking & Why Is This Bad For Athletes?

Eli Straw
What Is Outcome-Oriented Thinking & Why Is This Bad For Athletes?

I want to start off by asking you a question. Can you force an outcome? If you really focus and put all your attention on wanting to get a certain result, can you make it happen?

The answer, as much as we hate to admit it, is no. Now I’ll be the first to say, I wish I had the power to control the outcome of a game or my life in general. But sadly, we don’t hold such power.

We can influence the outcome, of course! There are actions we can take that put us in the best position to achieve the results we want. Though, this does not come from seeking to force the outcome. In fact, the more you try to force an outcome, the less likely it will happen.

Outcomes are all over the place in sports. Athletes are judged based on their stats and coaches are fired as a result of a losing record. So with outcomes being so highly valued, why is it that focusing on them is one of the worst mindsets any athlete can adopt?

Well, it can be summed up through the understanding of a simple concept, outcome-oriented thinking, and the negative impact this form of thought has on your performance.

What Is Outcome-Oriented Thinking

Outcome-oriented thinking is a form of thought that is all consuming of your mind. It involves having your attention fixed on the end result. Typically, this type of thinking is based in fear and worry, but we’ll get more into that later.

When you begin to adopt this kind of thinking, you tend to have your attention latched onto the end result. Every action you take is done with the worry about what the outcome will look like.

So outcome-oriented thinking involves focusing on the outcome. But what exactly are the outcomes which athletes focus on in the first place?

"Outcome-oriented thinking is a form of thought that is all consuming of your mind. It involves having your attention fixed on the end result."

Different Kinds Of Outcomes

Outcome Of A Game

This is a huge one and probably where most people's minds go when talking about the outcome. There’s a reason we keep score during games and it’s what we love about sports. Having two teams work hard to see who comes out on top.

For the ones actually playing the game, however, focusing on the score is rarely good. Worrying about the score happens both before and during the game.  

Before the game, you worry about who will win and how your team will be able to defeat your opponent. During a game, if you fall behind you begin worrying about how you’ll retake the lead. And if you’re winning, you worry about how you can hold onto the lead.

Your Stats

As I said earlier, statistics are one of the major ways athletes are judged. Stats play a part in getting recruited, becoming a starter, gaining awards, and advancing in levels.

Yet, these statistics are an outcome, and therefore need to be treated as such. When you start to focus too much on them, this serves as a major distraction during a game.

One of the main times stats become a focal point for outcome-oriented thinking is after a mistake. When a mistake is made, it’s easy to start thinking about the implications it will have on your stats.

The Opinions Of Others

This may not be an outcome that comes to mind right away, but worrying about the opinions of other people is a major form of outcome-oriented thinking.

You may worry about what your coaches are thinking and how they think you’re playing. They are the ones who make the lineup and determine your playing time, so it’s easy to begin worrying about what’s going on in their minds.

You may also be worrying about your teammates and what they think of you. You want to impress them, so you start to wonder what their opinion is of you after a success and especially after a failure.

Your parents can also be a concern. Wondering what they're going to think after a mistake and whether or not they’ll be upset with how you played is a major distraction.

How Outcome-Oriented Thinking Hurts Athletes

If outcomes are how athletes are judged and if so much emphasis is placed on winning, losing, and stats, why is it bad for athletes to focus on them?

It seems natural to think, “If I want to have a specific stat line or win a game, then I need to focus on that.”

I completely understand that logic. However, you must look deeper at what makes up a successful outcome and what happens to your mind when you focus too much on the end result.

Outcome-oriented thinking is dangerous due to the negative effects it has on your mind. Here are the leading reasons outcome-oriented thinking is bad for athletes:

Increased Anxiety

With outcome-oriented thinking, you’re focused on the end result. When this occurs, it’s hard not to start worrying about what may or may not happen.

When you’re worried about what your stats will look like, you grow anxious during a game because you are concerned over what a mistake will do to them.

The more you are thinking about other people’s opinions, the more anxiety grows within your mind. You’re worried about what they think, how they’ll judge you, and so you are anxious about making a mistake and playing well.

Honestly, if you truly believed you’d get the outcome you wanted, would there be any need to worry about it? No, you would just trust it was going to happen and enjoy playing. Since you are focused on the end result, this highlights the level of anxiety you’re experiencing.

The more worries you have, the less in the moment you’ll be and the lower your chances are of performing your best.

"Honestly, if you truly believed you’d get the outcome you wanted, would there be any need to worry about it? No, you would just trust it was going to happen and enjoy playing."

High Levels of Fear

Anxiety and fear go hand in hand. Fear of failure means you are afraid to make a mistake. So, as this fear grows, anxiety quickly follows. As anxiety develops, you then fear that which you are anxious over happening.

Outcome-oriented thinking leads to high levels of fear due to the nature of sports. Someone will win and someone will lose. Your stats will either rise or fall. You think people will judge you in a good way or a bad way.

All of these outcomes indicate winning and losing. When you’re focused on the outcome, which do you think you’re more worried about; winning or losing?

If you are focused on the end result during a game, it’s typically because you’re afraid of losing. Whether you’re afraid of losing the game, having your stats drop, or what people will think, your thoughts are based in fear.

Fear of failure leads to you playing timidly. Since you are seeking to avoid losing, you tiptoe around your performance. Unable to play freely with full confidence, your game will never reach a level you know you’re capable of achieving.

Poor Focus

At the very core of outcome-oriented thinking is focus. Our focus is directly related to our thoughts. When you begin thinking about what may or may not happen, that’s where your attention goes.

It travels onto these imagined outcomes which ignite feelings of fear and anxiety. But more than that, it takes your attention off of what you’re doing.

Games are won and lost in moments. In an instant the game can change, the other team can take the lead, or a game saving play can happen. But what if in that moment you lost focus?

Instead of being focused on your route and the ball flying through the air, your mind drifts into the future thinking about what everyone will think of you if you catch the pass. That loss of focus leads to you dropping the go ahead touchdown.

Or maybe you’re a golfer and you’ve set up to make a put. As you get ready to start your swing, the score flashes in your mind. Now you can’t get the outcome out of your head and you miss an easy put to seal the win.

When your thoughts are preoccupied with the outcome, they are taken out of the moment. And since the present moment is where the game is taking place, this lowers your chances of success.

"Games are won and lost in moments. In an instant the game can change, the other team can take the lead, or a game saving play can happen. But what if in that moment you lost focus?"

A Positive Alternative

If outcome-oriented thinking is so bad, then what’s the alternative? Shifting your focus from the outcome onto the process!

I want you to think for a moment about what an outcome actually is. An outcome is a moment in time. It is a culmination of different actions that have been pieced together giving you a certain result.

Think about the outcome you want within a game like a town. Right now, you’re fifty miles away from that town. How are you going to get there?

Are you going to focus on the town, thinking about how happy you’ll be once you arrive or how embarrassed you’ll feel if you can’t find your way? You could, except I doubt you’ll get much closer.

What you have to do is start taking action. Each step you take puts you closer to the town. You get in the car, put the destination into your GPS, start your car, head down the street, take your first left turn, then a right turn, now you’re on the highway.

Do you see what’s happening? You are taking steps which are part of the process that will culminate in you reaching your destination. The same holds true for reaching the outcome you want within your game.

Becoming Process Focused

The process leads to the outcome. To reach your destination, you must focus on the process of getting there. When it comes to your sport, the concept is exactly the same.

Think about what processes make up the outcome you want. If it’s winning a game, you need to be sure you do everything you can to the best of your abilities in order to put yourself and your team in the best position to win.

This includes training leading up to game day, how you approach the game mentally, and the focus you give each moment within the game.

Becoming process focused is a way of controlling your attention. There is only so much energy you have to give. You don’t want this split between the current task you’re doing and the worries you have about the outcome.

Let go of the outcome and turn your attention onto the process. Give complete focus and energy to each action you take, every small detail that makes up the process and you put yourself in a much better position to achieve the outcome than worrying about the outcome ever could.

Final Thoughts

Outcome-oriented thinking is one of the worst mindsets you can adopt as an athlete.

While sports are full of outcomes and it’s how you’re judged as a performer, they can’t be your concern. Especially when you’re competing.

Worrying about the outcome pulls your attention away from what you’re doing. It leads to increased anxiety, fear of failure, and reduces your focus.

Instead, you need to shift your thinking and become process focused. This means giving your attention to each action you must take along the way. Think about what is the process that leads to the outcome you want and focus on that!

Through shifting your focus onto the process you will reduce the negative impact of outcome-oriented thoughts and raise your chances of success.

Let go of the outcome and take back control of your focus.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

Contact Success Starts Within Today

Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Contact Us
Thank you! Your message has been sent!
Oops! Something went wrong while trying to send your message.
Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

eli's story

Mental Training Courses

Learn more about our two main mental training courses for athletes: Mental Training Advantage and The Mentally Tough Kid.

The Mentally Tough Kid course will teach your young athlete tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage mistakes, increase motivation, and build mental toughness.

Learn More

In Mental Training Advantage, you will learn tools & techniques to increase self-confidence, improve focus, manage expectations & pressure, increase motivation, and build mental toughness. It's time to take control of your mindset and unlock your full athletic potential!

Learn More

Master Your Mental Game With One-On-One Coaching

Get one-on-one mental performance coaching to help break through mental barriers and become the athlete you're meant to be!