You know that feeling when you have been working towards a goal for months or years, and then you finally get there… and… nothing?
Maybe you’re excited and relieved because you finally made it; you finally made it happen. Or maybe you are a little frustrated because you made it but you feel like you could have done better. Or maybe you didn’t actually reach your goal and now you feel like it was all for nothing.
Think about deciding to train for a marathon for the first time in your life. You dedicate yourself to the training, you never miss a run or a workout. Maybe for 6 months or a year. Then finally race day comes, you finish your first ever marathon. And then what? You’re not sure, and you’re exhausted, so you take a break to figure it out. Then all of the sudden it is been months since you have gone for a run. When you do go for a run, it’s whenever the weather is nice or you get some extra time. The running habit that you had once developed that appeared so strong has suddenly vanished.
I’ve had my wheels turning the last few weeks after I started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear. Early on in the book he talks about how when we focus on outcomes we may limit our own happiness. We forget about all of the remarkable progress we make day in, and day out while we are working towards our goal. Then we get to the end, and rather than appreciating all of the growth and positive habits you have made for yourself along the way, all we are looking at is the end result. A few different things can happen here.
- You reach your goal and immediately set the next one, spending no time feeling happy or proud of what you have achieved. Maybe you do achieve an incredible amount of success – but you are never happy or even content.
- You reach your goal and then stop… all of your healthy habits fade away into an infinite abyss of things we didn’t keep on track. You feel lost and unsure of what to do next.
- You didn’t reach your goal, and all you can think about it the fact that you failed. You pay no mind to the progress you have made along the way.
When we think about goals in this rigid format, we are unable to be mindful of what we experience along the way. We literally rely on achievement of goals for permission to be happy. We forget that progress is not linear; that there are ups and downs and backwards and forwards and sideways and even stationary movements. It is easy to get sucked into the mindset of “first or last”…”pass or fail”….”win or lose.” Meanwhile, the only thing we really failed at is the ability to realize and hold onto the powerful habits that we have built along our path.
What habits do you have that contribute to your success? What habits are hurting you? Do you hit the snooze button every time your alarm goes off? Or do you hop out of bed and start your morning routine no matter how tired you are? When you eat a bag of chips, do you poor a bowl and make a mindful decision to stop when it is empty or to fill it back up? Or do you eat out of the bag and pay no attention to how hungry you may or may not actually be?
James argues that we could reach the same levels of success by focusing solely on the habits that would lead us there, even if we throw the outcome goals out the window. This feels like a HUGE shift in what we know about goal setting. But if we shift our mindset, it really isn’t.
This doesn’t mean that we should never set the bar high for ourselves or that we should stop caring about or setting goals. But this DOES mean that what we do day in and day out matters. Shift your focus from finding joy in achieving the outcome goal to finding joy in the process. Reward yourself for building a powerful system of habits and executing those habits daily. Success will follow.
My dad use to say the same thing to me every day at track practice when I wanted to measure how far the shot or disc went on a good throw, or when I was frustrated with myself because I knew it wasn’t far enough.
“Focus on the technique and the numbers will come.”
Little did I know he was setting me up for this small epiphany the whole time.