The problem with achieving a goal

What are your goals in life? This, or in a similar fashion, you might hear in job interviews, on a date, or reading a self-development book. They recommend us to set high, audacious, almost impossible goals. And, of course we set goals for ourselves, too. They can be small or big. The question is: What happens when you reached a goal?

I had a talk with a friend of mine which reminded me of something I read years back in Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. He wrote about a finding that seemed to hint at a problem with goals. He wrote that we tend to set ourselves bigger and more complicated goals, once we achieved the old ones. I think this is normal, as we want to grow and challenge ourselves. The problem arises, if we link our happiness on achieving a certain goal. Then, we set ourselves up for misery, as we constantly push away happiness out of our reach. We achieved something, we might enjoy this feeling, but it doesn’t last very long.

I already wrote about a conference I headed several times. It was a long project and I enjoyed every second during the process. I got a lot of praise and the conference was very close to what I wished it would be. All in all, a great success. Working towards something for 8 months every single day, without being paid is a sign that it meant a lot to me and I wanted the conference to be a success. But what happened the second I closed the conference? I felt empty. I don’t know if it surprised me that this feeling came so quickly, but there was a void.

Of course, I questioned myself and also, if that is really the thing I want to and should be doing. I mean, it cannot be normal to feel that way after achieving so much, right? I think I made a mistake there. And I think that other people apply the same faulty reasoning. I gave too much emphasis on the goal itself. Of course, you might have heard or read quotes that say the way is the goal. It made sense, but I never really processed it. Never understood it completely.

If we are always looking and striving for those feelings of joy and happiness we become a slave to this hunt. We aim higher and higher ending up disappointed. Then we might question if something about us is not right. And here we are at the beginning of a downward spiral.

So, what to do?

The answer is already there. I should focus on the process and forget about the goal. I don’t say the goal is not important. Working towards something without a goal and just for my own pleasure of doing it contains the risk of doing something stupid, or hurtful for myself or others. What I want to say is that maybe it is more about the intention I set. I want to create a workshop for people that helps them to better understand themselves and that helps people to be less anxious and more loving towards themselves and others. Now, I know that my intentions are good, and I walk in the right direction. So probably it makes sense to link your intention to the vision you created for your life.

Now, I can give more emphasis on the process itself. I don’t need to wait for the end to give me joy and a feeling of pride. I can, and I feel that throughout the process. I was just not totally aware of it. Let the process be your reward. If you want to draw, then enjoy every single line, if you want to conduct a workshop, enjoy the creative process of coming up with something new, enjoy conversations with your team or customers. Now, the only thing you need to find is a process that you can enjoy.

Let us focus less on achieving a goal, but rather on enjoying the process. This is what has the power to lead a content and meaningful life.

 

Stephan

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