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By Dr. Cynthia Ackrill
Keep your eye on the goal? Visualize your win? That’s the secret to success, yes?
But what if you don’t exactly feel the “thrill of victory” after the big win? What if success leaves you feeling empty or unhappy — like you’re missing out on something more? Perhaps you even feel a dose of guilt that you don’t feel happier when you have so much going for you!
In a goal-oriented society like ours, it’s easy to link accomplishment with “deserving” to feel happy. But as Dr. Jim Taylor pointed out so well on Huffington Post, you might not find happiness at the finish line.
I work with high achievers who often feel restless, disconnected or even depressed despite an amazing laundry list of successes, loving families, friends, and communities.
Of course, you know it’s important to enjoy the journey, but your negatively biased brain is much better at focusing on the gap between where you are now and the next big goal — it’s been trained to do that. Even when you do reach that goal and fire off your brain’s reward center (“the thrill”), your brain immediately starts seeking another “hit,” identifies another gap, creates higher stakes for earning the next good feeling. The ever-moving carrot!
Should you just become a lazy underachiever then? No. Goals are critical to focusing your motivation and attention to get the things in life that matter to you. Goals put your values into action. But they can also lead you to focus too heavily on external metrics for your internal sense of well-being and satisfaction.
“I will be happy as soon as … ”
You probably don’t say that out loud, but along the path of achievement, it’s far too easy to program that moving carrot mentality into your subconscious. This is constantly written into the stories that create the expectations of our culture. This gives goals, instead of emotional self-regulation, control over our feelings. And that lack of control translates to constant stress that erodes happiness.
There is also a nasty, unspoken corollary: “I am not enough as I am.”
Your inner critic uses this theme to undermine your happiness. This often pushes you to skip the powerful step of savoring your wins along the way, a practice that supports positivity and success.
Over-focus on goals can also distract from from focusing on your greater life purpose. Being grounded in purpose fuels health, happiness and performance in a more lasting way.
So then, how can you enjoy true happiness along the path to achieving your goals and dreams? Here are five simple steps.
1. Create rituals to remind yourself of your bigger purpose. When you focus on your core values and the longer journey, individual goals have less power to rule your mood. Use a picture or mantra or daily ritual to ground yourself in what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” more often than, “What do I want/need to do?”
3. Savor the small wins and progress. Research shows that you can boost the deep happiness you crave and improve motivation and performance by making progress. Try the iDoneThis app if you need a reminder.
4. Practice self-compassion and loving-kindness for yourself. Breathe in and out while saying, “I have everything I need, I am enough.” Repeat. Repeat. Schedule this into your daily routine.
5. Lighten up! Let your inner child find more play laughter along the route. You may just learn more in the process. You’ll definitely support your creativity and performance!
Yes. You can practice be more present, more mindful, have more fun, and achieve your big hairy goals with a smile on your face and in your heart! Like life … it just takes intention and practice and A LOT of love.
Cynthia Ackrill is a YourTango Expert. Check out her website to learn more strategies to tackle your stress or take control of your future.
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