Not All Goals Are Created Equal
We set goals with the expectation of achieving something that will bring value to ourselves or others. We pour our hearts and souls into the process at the expense of sleep, health, relationships, etc. We tell ourselves that the outcome will justify the means. However, when we finally achieve our goal, we do not always experience the long-lasting and fulfilling satisfaction we envisioned.
Many accept the scenario described above as the norm. After achieving one goal, we immediately choose another one and restart the cycle. This behavior limits us to bursts of satisfaction followed by large valleys of despair. It is an endless pursuit of future fulfillment that leaves us exhausted and continually longing for more.
Fortunately, there is a solution. Current literature suggests that we need two key elements to experience long-lasting and fulfilling satisfaction related to our goals. These two elements work in concert with each other, and neither is sufficient by itself. First, we need to set the proper goals. Next, we need to enjoy the journey of pursuing them.
Setting the Proper Goals
Not all goals are equal. Goals that deliver long-lasting satisfaction share three characteristics: the freedom to choose our path, the opportunity to get better at something, and the possibility of connecting with others while benefiting them in the process.
Freedom – Choosing our goals is essential for a positive journey. This freedom is critical for us to thrive.
Getting Better – Goals that allow us to get better at something feed our need for competence. The best part is that we can always find new goals that will enable us to keep improving in any area of our lives.
Connecting with Others – We all have a deep need for belonging and caring for others. Goals that satisfy these needs allow us to transcend ourselves.
Enjoying the Journey
Enjoying the pursuit of our goals can be very challenging for most of us. Our culture rewards results instead of processes. Think about one of your foundational classes in school. Were you focused on getting a good grade or learning as much as possible? Most of us concentrate on the grade because society rewards the result or outcome, not the process that leads to it.
The good news is there is hope. We can change the result-oriented mentality that often prevents us from enjoying the journey. First, we set the proper goals, as discussed earlier. Next, we need to free ourselves from the desire to prove how capable we are of achieving our goals. We focus our efforts on the process of reaching our goals, despite the outcome. Yes, you read correctly. Reaching the goal almost becomes irrelevant when we focus on the process. When we derive value from the process, the outcome becomes the icing on the cake. With this approach, even if we fail to achieve our goals, we are left with valuable growth and pleasant memories of the journey.
Having and pursuing goals that will deliver long-lasting fulfillment and satisfaction is more of an art than a science. Here are some of the best practices I have encountered:
When seeking motivation, think of why we pursue a goal. When facing challenging or unfamiliar opportunities, think of what we need to do.
Write down your goals to increase your commitment to them. Share your goals with others for an extra sense of duty or accountability.
Express your goals in a way that you can objectively measure their success or failure.
Track your goal progress periodically with the proper metrics. While you are at it, celebrate accomplishments and learn from shortcomings.
Set goals that are challenging yet feasible. Goals that are too difficult are discouraging, while goals that are too comfortable lead to boredom.
Define your goals in the realm of a realistic possibility to attain them. We tend to assume that achieving our goals will be easier than in reality.
Protect your goals from other distractions, so you maximize your opportunities to achieve them.
Ensure goals lead you to what you truly value. Many people mistake success in life with wealth, fame, power, or high social status and make them their goals.
Reaching your goals involves more than ability. Give your best effort, persevere, and plan. Success is the result of these three things.
Visualize success and the steps you need to take to achieve your goals. Visualizing success alone is not enough.
Redefine goals as needed. We evolve in our journeys, so our goals deserve the same opportunity.
Sometimes we fall short of achieving our goals. Learn from the journey and move on.
Give up a goal when you either have too much on your plate or the cost of achieving it becomes too great.
Long-lasting fulfillment and satisfaction await when we choose goals that motivate us intrinsically and focus on the journey’s value. Operating under this mindset is not easy by any means, but it is a proven path to develop the best version of ourselves. And only at our best do we maximize our ability to impact the world around us positively.
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. ‘The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior’. Psychological Inquiry 11 (2000) 227-268.
Heidi Grant Halvorson, Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals (New York: Penguin Group, 2012).
Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment (McGraw-Hill, 2007).
Tom Morris, True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence (New York: Berkley, 1994).