In this article, I share with you the Outcome Investigator, a psychological technique I invented to help you understand and correct your own failures effectively and quickly.

In this article, I share with you the Outcome Investigator, a psychological technique that I invented to help you understand and correct your own failures effectively and quickly.

In 2005, the writer David Foster Wallace shared a story at a college commencement speech1, which I often use in my Habit Coaching Programs:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’ The two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

The moral of the anecdote is that humans, similar to fish, have their lives primarily determined by invisible forces: Habits, beliefs, cognitive patterns, values, and our living environment all shape the automatic choices that we do every single day.

It is this “water” that we “live” in that affects what we do, what we think, how we perform, and it ultimately adds up to who we become and what our life is going be like.

Suppose a goldfish is stuck in an aquarium with dirty water. In that case, there is a not lot that the fish can do besides getting sick and dying miserably.

The good news is, you are not a fucking goldfish, and you can transcend your dirty pond.

In this article, I am going to share with you the secrets of behavioural transformation so that you can leap out of your dirty water into an ocean of unlimited opportunities.

Translating Outcomes Into Habits

On a Wednesday in 2008, Michael Phelps woke up around 6:30 am in the Olympic Village in Beijing.

He jumped out of bed, put his Olympic sweatpants on and walked down to the cafeteria, eating his regular competition day dinner, which was a bagel with cream cheese, some fruit, and oatmeal, a good slow start of the 6,000 calories that he typically consumes within a day.

Phelps’s race for the day was scheduled for ten o’clock; his pre-race routine starts with stretching his entire body, which is so flexible that he could easily tour in a circus as a snake man.

At 8:30 he starts his warm-up in the pool, 800 meters of mixed styles, 600 meters of kicking, 400 meters of pull, 200 meters of stroke drills, and some sprint laps to get his heart rate up.

Around 9:15 he starts to squeeze into his custom-made race bodysuit, which is so tight that it takes almost half an hour to put on.

It is almost showtime, and Phelps starts to get into “the zone” by putting on his big headphones and listening to some punching hip hop beats.

Michael Phelps finished the race in 50.58 seconds, he won gold, and he broke the Olympic world record; on that day, Michael Phelps became the fastest swimmer of all time.

Or did he?

Michael Phelps certainly succeeded that week in producing his precious desired outcome of winning Olympic gold medals (and sending everybody else home with an ass whooping), but the greatest swimmer of all time was not made in that single day, it all started years earlier.

Phelps excellence was not created in 2008; it all started in 1992 when 9-year-old Michael was driving his family and teachers crazy.

He had too much energy; they figured it would be best to consult a doctor:

I was told by one of his teachers that he couldn’t focus on anything“, said Debbi Phelps, his mother.

Shortly after, 9-year-old Michael was diagnosed with ADHD.

After Michael got into all sorts of trouble at school, Debbie Phelps decided that it was a good idea to put Michael into a swimming course, so that he could channel his extra energy productively.

Michael immediately fell in love with swimming.

His ADHD symptoms and his extreme emotionality were still a problem.

Little Michael hated losing, to the extent that his emotions would often get the best of him, and one time when he came in second, he immediately ripped off his goggles and threw them angrily around.

To counter out Michaels impulsivity, his mother came up with all sorts of habits and techniques to teach Michael how to conduct himself properly:

We came up with a signal that I could give him from the stands; I would form a “C” with my hand, which stood for “compose yourself”.

Every time little Michael was about to lose it, he would look at his mother, and he would see her making a C which reminded him to CONTROL himself and his emotions.

Michael’s mother was not the only one who saw something in him, Bob Bowman, a local swimming coach, immediately realised that little Michael had the right kind of physical preconditions to become a great swimmer.

Giant hands, similar to scuba paddles, long torso, and short legs, and the capability to obsess to a crazy extent about sports.

Phelps loved swimming so much that he would not miss one single swimming practice under Bowman in the first ten years.

Bowman, who believed that little Michael had what it took to become a pro someday, knew from experience, that on a professional level, everybody was talented and obsessive.

Bowman knew that the key to transforming little Michael into a world-class swimmer was by installing into him the right kind of habits.

Bowman designed several pre-race rituals for Michael to get him into the right mindset.

When he was coaching Michael as a teenager, Bowman would tell Michael to go home and “watch the video-tape “.

Watch the video-tape. Watch it before you go to sleep and when you wake up”.

The video-tape was not a physical thing; it was a visualisation exercise of Phelps swimming the perfect race.

From start to finish, picturing in his mind how he would jump from the starting block to the feeling he would have when he touched the end of the swimming pool first.

Once the real race arrived, Bowman would shout “Put on the video-tape!”.

Once given the signal, Phelps would take off, and swim one perfect race after another until he eventually became an Olympic champion and arguably the greatest swimmer who ever lived.

What Is The Moral Of The Phelps Story?

Your current life results are a product of the behavioural systems that were installed around and within you years ago.

The outcome of being a gold medal winner was not produced in a day; it was a collaborative effort by many people who succeeded in creating habits, beliefs, thinking patterns, and a living environment that made world-class success inevitable for Michael Phelps.

Who you are today is an outcome; if you change what you do, think, believe, and who you surround yourself with, you will produce a new outcome, a new you.

We all have things we would like to have.

For some people, those desired outcomes can be passing that pain in the ass math exam, for others it could be to lose 20 pounds to look sexy in their new swimsuit, others would like to make a million dollars, and other people would like to find the love of their life.

All of these outcomes are produced by changing the producer itself – this means that if you want something different, you need to become someone different.

The Outcome Investigator: Use This Simple Technique To Find Out Why You Are Failing

The first step of behavioural transformation is to find out who exactly one should become, and what kind of habits one needs to acquire to produce the desired outcomes.

One of the most effective yet straightforward exercises I ever created is what I call the Outcome Investigator. It is a simple exercise to explore the why behind a desired or undesired outcome. Only by translating our results into causes are we equipped to change the roots of our problems.

The exercise is simple, write down your current life outcomes in the left column, and in the right column, write down how you are producing this outcome.

The outcome could be:

  • A broken relationship
  • An empty bank account
  • Being out of shape
  • Being depressed
  • Being stuck in a meaningless career

The cause could be:

  • A habit
  • A belief
  • A thinking pattern
  • A value system
  • An environmental setup

Below you will find an example of how one of my clients used the behaviour investigator to deconstruct an undesired outcome that he was producing.

Undesired Current Outcome: Broken Relationship

Case Overview: 

Jon: ”My relationship is on its last legs. I’m absolutely certain that my partner and I are going to separate if we don’t manage to find out the why behind our current romantic failures. While I’m absolutely certain that my partner is my dream person, I’m definitively miles away from living my dream relationship. Fuck, if I’m honest, I’m closer to my nightmare relationship. We fight all the time, we don’t have sex anymore, we see the world differently, and I feel that whatever I’m doing, it’s not enough. I’m a guy who needs a woman who has my fucking back unconditionally. I do not have that right now, I feel insecure, and I’m afraid that if I come home, her stuff will be gone, and all I will find is a goodbye letter”.

Possible Causes  
What behavioural patterns are producing this outcome?
  • We stopped having regular date nights.
  • I don’t surprise her anymore with gestures of unconditional love.
  • We’ve gotten into the habit of fighting anything.
  • We’ve stopped our flirting habits.
  • I don’t take care of myself; before, I used to dress up to impress her, now I just don’t try anymore.
Thinking Patterns
What cognitive patterns are producing this outcome?
  • I often think “here we go again”.
  • I often say to myself “maybe I’m just not enough for this woman”.
  • Black and white thinking.
  • I daydream about going out with others to escape the pain of this relationship.
  • I often say to myself “I’ve tried everything now it’s up to her”.
Beliefs And Stories
What belief structures are producing this outcome?
  • The belief that this relationship is already over.
  • The belief that I’m not lovable.
  • The belief that my girlfriend will leave me anyway, no matter what I do.
  • The belief that I’m just not successful enough to attract someone special.
Environmental Set-Up
What role is my living environment playing in all of this?
  • Most of my friends are bachelors who continuously tell me sentences like “love should be easy”.
  • My girlfriend lives at my place; this sometimes hurts her because she cannot afford her own yet, so she also struggles with opening up about her emotions because she is afraid that conflict will cause her to lose her apartment.
  • My job is also stressing me the fuck out; I don’t feel like I can tolerate as much human stuff as I am supposed to.
Value Systems
Is my current priority system producing this result?
  • For a long time, I’ve been prioritising work over love. In the beginning, when all was going well, I had love as my North Star, this changed when the relationship became harder.

Producing A Different Future With The Outcome Investigating Technique

Once my client realised that he was a co-producer of the result called disconnection, he started to fix the things that he had control over. Surprise surprise – things got better for him and his girlfriend.

This technique is not only effective when it comes to an understanding of your past and current life results; it is a technique that can be used to change your future and manifest your desired outcomes.

Once you adopt the role of being the architect of your behaviour, you can start by outlining a future outcome that you want to produce and implement the habits, beliefs, value systems, environmental setups, and thinking patterns that will produce your desired future results so that your vision will become a reality.

Below you will find an example of how I used the outcome investigator to produce a desired future outcome with one of my clients.

Desired Future Outcome: Financial Freedom

Case Overview: 

Jaqueline: “I’m tired of being broke, I just can’t it anymore, I need to change this dimension of my life, and I need to change it fast. In the future, I want to buy my kids what they want, I want to be able to use my time to do what I love instead of selling my precious hours to somebody else who lets me do a task that I can’t extract any meaning from. I want to travel with my family, and I want to send my kids to the best schools so that they have the best chances to realise their potential. I’ve never been financially independent in my life; my parents taught me that money doesn’t matter; they always said what matters is happiness. Well, I don’t have money, and I’m super depressed about it, and I know that to feel good about myself, I need to install a certain level of financial security around me. Also, I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking that they are poor kids, I don’t want my husband to be our only source of income, I need to slay this monster of a problem; otherwise, I won’t become happy”.

Possible Causes  
What behavioural patterns can produce this outcome? What patterns will prevent this outcome from happening?
  • I need to install a money management system.
  • I need to install an investing habit.
  • I need to stop my compulsive shopping habits.
  • I need to create a financial education habit where I learn about the art of getting rich.
  • I need to install productivity habits, such as measuring my time.
  • I need a sophisticated goal-setting habit.
Thinking Patterns
What cognitive patterns can produce this outcome? What patterns will prevent this outcome from happening?
  • I need to stop thinking like a poor person.
  • I need to start making financial decisions based on my knowledge and not on my emotions.
  • My internal dialogue can’t be negative all the time; I need to believe in myself and cheer myself on from the inside.
Beliefs And Stories
What belief structures can produce this outcome? What belief structures will prevent this outcome from happening?
  • I need to become a saver and not a spender.
  • I need to become a producer who sells products instead of her time.
  • I need to internalise that financial freedom is achievable for me.
  • I need to divorce the old story that I do not have what it takes to become financially successful.
Environmental Set-Up
What does my environment have to look like to produce my desired outcome?
What it cannot look like?
  • I need to surround myself with people who are already producing the results that I want to have.
  • I need a mentor who I can ask financial questions.
  • I need friends who bring out the best in me.
  • I need to dress like a person who already is financially free.
  • I need to create a library in my apartment.
Value Systems
What do I have to value to make my desired outcome a reality? What values cannot I have any more?
  • I need to make competence and financial freedom my major North Stars.
  • I need to value hard work, sacrifice, and learning.
  • I need to devalue instant gratification.

Where To Go From Here?

The purpose of this article is to stress the fact that what is happening in your life is connected to what you do, think, believe, value, and surround yourself with.

Of course, life has a certain element of randomness to it. However, up to this day, I have never met a person whose life did not get better after they changed the things that they had control over.

One of the most therapeutic habits that I ever formed was what I call the outcome investigation habit; it is quite simple.

Whenever the world is not manifesting itself to me in the way I want it to, I ask myself this question;

Am I the producer of this undesired outcome?

If the answer to this question is yes, I immediately start an outcome investigation to find out how I am currently fucking up my life, so that I can swap my patterns of self-sabotage for success rituals.

Getting into the habit of becoming an outcome investigator will empower you to translate unpleasant realities into action steps, which has the potential of changing life results that you are producing effectively.

This mindset will help you to become a confident architect of your life, who is capable of producing successful outcomes in all of the relevant life dimensions; yes, this means that you can have it all if you want it badly enough.

Before I end this article, I would like to give you one last piece of warning:

Adopt your responsibilities intelligently, sometimes life is a bitch, and you must integrate random, undeserved suffering and misery into your equation of the world and life itself.

The best communication habits will not save your relationship if you are stuck with an asshole.

The best nutritional habits are sometimes not enough to prevent you from getting sick.

The most effective business rituals, sometimes, will not be successful in keeping your dream project alive.

But I can tell you something out of the experience; failure feels a lot less painful when you have done everything you can to prevent it.

Thank you for reading, now go and build your personal masterpiece of a life.

Do You Want To Change Your Habits? 


  1. The speech was originally published on the Kenyon College website.

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