I woke up this morning thinking about process versus product. Sometimes I’m a “process person”–doing something because I enjoy the process of doing it–and sometimes I’m a “product person”–doing something because I want the product.
Let me expand on this: I knit hats because I enjoy the process of knitting. I used to think I knit hats because I wanted knitted hats, but really, you can buy a perfectly good hat for $4.99 at Target, and instead I use a $50 skein of cashmere-silk blend and I knit it with a small needle, and I enjoy the texture of the yarn between my fingers as I knit, and sometimes I give the hat away when I’m done–so it really is about the process, because it can take me hours and hours of knitting, which basically means if I wanted a hat, I could have ten or twenty of them for less money and less time than that one hat cost me. So knitting is all about the process of knitting, and not really about the product. (I mean, these days the yarn to knit someone a sweater pretty much always costs more than a ready-made sweater costs. Handknitting is a costly process.)
You want another example? Dog training. I love dog training, and one reason I enjoy agility is because there’s always something you can train. There are so many aspects of agility. It’s a challenge every time to my brain, to the dog’s brain. There are new places, new ways to train. I’m so old I remember when 2x2s were the hottest training method out there and I had to work out my own method from a four-page description in a book because there were no videos yet. It’s a never-ending process. There’s no point at which you can look at your agility dog and say “there, I’m done.” That’s a process activity, definitely.
Now, what’s a product activity? Cake baking comes to mind. The goal in cake baking is to have a cake and then eat the cake. You can enjoy the process of making the cake–there are all sorts of little pleasures in baking, including licking the bowl and that moment when you slice a tiny corner off the bottokm to taste the cake before you frost it–but really, it’s all about the product–the cake–and not about the process of mixing the eggs and the butter and the flour. (Although I’ll digress a moment to say that the chemistry of baking is pretty amazing, and is definitely worthy of respect.)
Sometimes one person’s product is another person’s process. My sister makes beautiful pottery bowls and she gives them to me and I love them. To me, it’s a product–but I’m pretty sure my sister loves the process, too, because I’ve watched her make a bowl and she’s clearly enjoying herself. (I know she likes the knitted hats I occasionally send her, too.)
There are things that are both process and product and switch back and forth. Running and racing comes readily to mind. Races are the product punctuation in the process of training. You have to enjoy the process of running if you want to have the product of good races, of personal records. (I do think running races well is part of the “what gets rewarded gets repeated” cycle in running, at least for me. I like seeing concrete results. I like it a lot.)
This morning I was, as usual, obsessing about my efforts to lose weight. I have twelve pounds to go and I’m currently losing at a bit less than a pound a month and so I was doing the math (obsessively) and coming up with “oh my god, this process is going to take me at least another year before I have finally lost all the weight” and then it dawned on me that this is not a product, it is a process. I am never going to hit a point where I have a product I can hold up and say “look what I made.” I will hit a point where I can say “okay, I can eat a little bit more” but I won’t be able to eat everything I want, not no how, no way, not ever. In fact, that’s never been true (if it were, I would not have gotten to where I needed to lose 64 pounds). Health is a process by which your tiny decisions lead to a momentary product: today I’m healthy.
This morning I switched from thinking about weight loss as a product–a goal I can reach and then I can stop–to thinking about weight loss as part of a process. I need to eat carefully because health is a process. Running is a process. Training Rush is a process. Gardening is a process (although I enjoy the tomatoes and roses that are a product). I can enjoy the process of taking care of my health. I can stop worrying about how long it takes, because it’s like knitting a hat. There’s no deadline, so I might as well relax and enjoy the process.