The Fox and the Hedgehog - The Remarkable Value of Trusting the Process

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

In a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin, the 20th century philosopher divided the world into 2 categories of people: Hedgehogs and Foxes. [1]

The fox knows a great many things. He is cunning and smart. He is fast and sneaky. He is willing to try a lot of strategies to beat the hedgehog and win his share of the forest.

The hedgehog, on the other hand, knows one big thing. He is simple. He knows only one strategy but executes it to perfection. Whatever the fox tries, the hedgehog defends himself with what he knows to do best. 

When they face each other in the forest, the fox always tries a new strategy to defeat the hedgehog. Ultimately, though, the hedgehog always wins. No matter what the fox tries, the hedgehog just curls up into an impenetrable ball, exposes his spikes and thwarts the crafty fox – forcing him to retreat and come up with another plan.


When it comes to pursuing goals, many of us act like a fox. We set our goal and come up with a bold new strategy that we are going to use achieve it.

An 8-week abs program.

A 12-day juice cleanse.

Audiotapes that will teach us a new language in 60 days. 

Then we get to work. Devoting a huge chunk of our time, energy and willpower to achieving our goal. Then we last a couple of days, but we don’t see the results we were expecting.

Our abs look nothing like the cover of the Men’s Health magazine, our stomachs are crying out for solid foods and we don’t feel any closer to learning a new language.

So we try a new strategy!

What we actually need is some at-home gym equipment to get the abs we really want!

We don’t need a juice cleanse to get thin, we need to follow the Paleo diet!

And to learn a new language, we really should take an online course, not audiotapes!

In the meantime, while we are acting like foxes and trying new strategies, there are others who are acting like hedgehogs. They set a course for their goal with a simple philosophy and they stick to it.

They don’t look for abs in 8 weeks, they just start going to the gym 1x/week.

They don’t try a juice cleanse, they just start eating a healthy breakfast every day.

They don’t try to learn a new language in 2 months, they just start a Spanish 101 class.

Then they don’t stop.

They become comfortable going to the gym 1x/week, so they begin going 2x/week.

They create a habit of eating a healthy breakfast, so they begin eating healthier at lunch as well.

They finish their Spanish 101 class, so they move on to Spanish 102.

After that, they become comfortable with taking the next step, then the next one after that. They establish a solid foundation and continue the pursuit of their goal with patience and persistence. They do not endlessly jump from one strategy to the next, they know the results will come as long as they trust the process. 

And in the end, these hedgehogs reach their goals; while the foxes are off trying yet another brilliant strategy to get the "quick results" they want. 


In the information age we are living in, there are countless strategies we can use to achieve our goals. Google search for a “diet plan” and you will find an endless supply of free information on diets that will help you lose weight and become healthy. 

Some will advocate for a diet that is high in fat and low in carbs.

Some will advocate for a diet that is high in carbs and low in fat.

Some will advocate eating meat for all 3 meals.

Some will advocate for completely eliminating meat and going vegan. 

All will claim that they are proven to help you lose weight and become healthy. 

And the good news is, they will! 

Almost any diet that is advocated with any kind of scientific basis to it will work. It probably really will help you lose weight and become healthier!

But no diet program will work unless you do.

Unless you are willing to stick to the program that is laid out and persist with it for the long term, you will never see the results that they promise. The same can be said for a program to improve your fitness, a program to improve your productivity, or a program to learn a new skill.

The process that you choose in pursuit of any goal is far less important than the willpower you use to stick with it. And trusting that the process will bring you the results you want is absolutely necessary in order to find the willpower to stick with it. 


So how do we stick with this process? How do we trust that it will get us results we desire and achieve our goals? 

Here are 3 strategies you can use that will help you stick to the process: 

1. Win the Day

Many times when we become tempted to act like foxes it is because the process that we are adhering to is taking "too long". We see no light at the end of the tunnel. The results we want to achieve all seem hopelessly out of reach. 

It can be incredibly discouraging when you are exhausted on day 12 of a 90 day workout program. There is no end in sight! How can you possibly make it through another 78 days of this?

But what if you were to change your perspective?

What if instead of focusing on the 78 days ahead of you, you were to simply focus on getting through today? Clearly it is not an impossible workout routine; you have made it through the first 12 days after all!

Our brains get overwhelmed remarkably easily. When something looks too big for us to accomplish, we get intimidated and begin to feel hopeless. However, if we break the larger project into small, manageable chunks - such as what we can accomplish today - our brain shifts to problem-solving mode. Rather than coming up with excuses, we begin to come up with solutions. [2]

Then when we win the day, we earn a sense of accomplishment and gain confidence that we will be able to win the day tomorrow as well. Then, eventually, we win 10, 20, 40 days in a row and the overall goal doesn't seem so far out of reach.


Most people do not give up on the process because it is too difficult. Most people give up on the process because it is too boring.

It is boring ordering a salad for lunch rather than a grilled sandwich with fries. 

It is boring going to the gym after work rather than spending time with your friends.

It is boring practicing a new skill rather than watching TV or playing video games. 

And it is boring taking small, disciplined steps in the right direction rather than choosing to take one giant leap with a new strategy that promises fast results.

Trusting the process requires that you embrace this boredom. The journey to achieving anything great is going to take a long time. It is going to require that you put in the time day after day and be extraordinarily consistent. This will not be easy, but neither will endlessly hopping from one strategy to the next. 

The difference is that sticking with the process will get you results. Acting like a fox will get you nowhere. Understand that there are going to be certain steps in your journey that will be boring. Do not mistake this boredom for a lack of passion or drive. It is simply a necessary step in order to achieve what you really want. 

3. Track your progress

We have a natural desire for self-improvement. This stems from the days that our ancestors were living in tribes. The tribe was safe, so we wanted to ensure that we had a secure spot within it. So we began to check our own behavior and compare it against the best members of the tribe. This gave us motivation to set higher standards for ourselves and try to live up to them. [3]

You can tap into this natural motivation by tracking your progress. When you track how much weight you're losing, how many miles you're running, or how much you're improving on a new skill, the part of your brain that is responsible for achieving your long-term goals is activated. 

This gives you a rush of willpower to continue to make progress. It gives you drive to continue the journey and continue to improve. [4]

Take advantage of your inner drive to improve by tracking your progress. Create a journal and write down as much information as you can about how you're progressing. This may seem tedious, but by tracking this progress, you will find a desire within yourself to constantly improve.

You can find tools and strategies to track your progress in this article.


Goals are not achieved because of some magical new strategy that will give you big results, fast. The truth is that almost every strategy that you use to diet, exercise or learn a new skill will give you results - if you have the patience to stick with it. 

Many of us ignore this fact. Rather than choosing one strategy and sticking with it, we try a something, get bored or impatient with it, then try a new "better" strategy. We run around like a fox; constantly changing our plans and ultimately making no progress.

The people who see their goals through to completion do not do this. They act like hedgehogs. They choose a goal, focus on one strategy to get them there and stick with it no matter what. They slowly and consistently make progress every day toward their goal. And in the end, they see the results they were looking for - while their fox-like colleagues are probably trying yet another "better" strategy.


  1. Berlin, I. (1953). The hedgehog and the fox; an essay on Tolstoy's view of history. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  2. Bandura, A. & Schunk, D. (1981) Cultivating Competence, Self-efficacy, and Intrinsic Interest through Proximal Self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 41.3 : 586-98.
  3. Duval, S., & Wicklund, R. (1972). A theory of objective self awareness. New York: Academic Press.
  4. McGonigal, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct: How Self-control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery.