The Systems Thinker - Center for Family Consultation's blog

When Process is the Outcome

Authored by Kelly Matthews-Pluta, M.S.W.

It is very difficult to make changes in our behavior without focusing on the outcome.  If we exercise, we hope to be stronger, faster or more flexible.  If we read a challenging book, we hope to be wiser.  If we pray, we hope to find an answer. Bowen theory is not oblivious to outcomes, but using this theory in your life, the process, the work itself, is the key. Focus on process becomes an outcome, which requires time and effort to observe and think about ourselves and the world we live in. It means using increased awareness and insight to guide our actions.  Leaning into process requires no, or very little, attachment to the outcome.

Clients often report that working on themselves and family life is hard and taxing.  Time and effort is being spent on thoughtful responses to one’s anxiety to life’s dilemmas.  Additional time and effort is needed to calm reactivity in relationships.  We would like to see our efforts pay off.  We would like to worry less, remain calm in the face of another’s worry, and enjoy our families.  The last sentence may happen, but it may not, at least not right away.

The idea that process; the thinking, reflecting and acting thoughtfully on our internal life, should be the focus of our efforts, is difficult and often frustrating. Clients often want change in behavior, their own or that of others.  Changing one’s thinking to focus on process and away from outcome can alter how one views progress.  If one could see the very process of thinking broadly and factually about our position in relationships as a goal, then the pressure of reaching a particular outcome may fade.  Could work towards better functioning relationships be seen as success? How might it help to see the work and not the outcome as the goal?  What a difference it may make if the Bowen concepts could be viewed as moving along a path toward better differentiation of self and better functioning relationships; toward a life that has more mature, responsible relationships in it.

Differentiation of self is not a place, but a sense of being in the world.  Triangles need not be banished, but are helpful templates to lay over complex relationship dynamics.  Multigenerational Family Process is not a new way to blame our family, but an invitation to understand the power of human relationships over time.  Bowen theory can be a useful lens to see ourselves and the world around us.

We can focus on how we see ourselves and our relationships by observing our thoughts and actions, thereby bringing observation of anxiety within self to the front of our efforts.  This is often a life-long process.  While that may sound daunting, if we leave specific outcomes out of the mix, we can see the process as successful. This can lead us away from a heavy focus on outcomes and toward greater understanding of process.

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3 Comments on "When Process is the Outcome"

  • As we work on the process, we may discover that the process is its own reward. As we gain in self-awareness and maturity, we find things changing in ways we couldn’t have predicted. We may not get the outcome we expected, but rather find the systems we live in changing as we ourselves change. Thank you for making these important connections, Kelly.

    • Kelly Matthews-Pluta says

      That the process could be it’s own reward is exactly what I was trying to get at, Stephanie. Thank you for that clarity.

  • Regina M. Ferrera says

    I think it is important to focus on process. I like what you say about the relationship between process and outcome. It is hard not to get attached to outcomes. But if one is attached to a specific outcome, that affects the process. The idea of working on functioning better in a relationship over the long-term as a goal makes sense.

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