Why Achieving Goals Won’t Bring Long-Term Happiness
We live in a world where acquisition and achievement have become all-important. This is supported by our innate desire to have more and be more. A whole movement which studied the psychology of success over the past 40 years has taught us that the only way to “success” is to set clearly defined goals. Having set these goals, they are attained by focusing unwaveringly on their accomplishment and taking action, daily, to realise our chosen outcomes.
There is no doubt that the human mind is hugely powerful and if you consistently focus your mind on a chosen result, there is a good possibility that you will achieve that outcome. This may take some time, but with patience and a sense of determination, you may well get there. For a few, this approach has brought material success and financial gain, but for many it has led to disappointment, frustration and misery as intended goal after goal has not materialised.
Goals are most often set in the hope that life will be better with the attainment of them. They are set in the hope that with this achievement or acquisition, there will be greater happiness and fulfilment. Unfortunately, they are also decided upon, and pursued, as a way of compensating for an underlying sense of lack and a gnawing insecurity: we believe that we will feel worthy, secure and of value once we have acquired the trophies of success - the thriving social life, the prestigious job, the great relationship and a healthy bank balance. And so, we connect our inner value to our outer value, imagining that these things will bring us a longed-for sense of VIP status and security in the world.
For many wanting to improve their lives, goal setting offers them a way of trying to make their lives more rewarding and under their control. Yet the realisation soon comes that even with their chosen achievement, they are no more joyful or content. And science proves this unequivocally. Yes, there is the short term high of triumph. Soon, though, this fades as a process known as ‘hedonic adaptation’ sets in and we grow accustomed to our new-found accomplishment and it no longer thrills us. How many times have we got the generous pay rise and bonus which enables us to buy the bigger house, the better car, the luxury holiday only to find that we are still no happier? From here the solution seems to be to set another goal, and a bigger goal at that, in the often-desperate hope that this will bring the good feelings we crave. In time, goal setting creates an almost never-ending cycle of desire all in the search for a seemingly elusive thing.
What often happens when we are intent on creating a certain outcome in our lives is we miss that very thing that actually is for us to have or create, that really would make us happy. With the strength of our focus, we fail to see the opportunity that is right in front of us because it is not what we have chosen to look for. The reticular activating system of our mind helps us to notice those things that lead us to our chosen outcome and can actually prevent us from noticing other signs and coincidences from the Universe along our way - signs that are trying to help and guide us. So many people miss out on what is inherently for them by having a narrow belief that things should be a certain way. Furthermore, our logical, rational approach to our goals leaves no room for intuition, inspiration and creativity as we forge ahead on our “chosen route”. And this is the crux of the problem, it is our chosen route, it is about what we want, and that is often at odds with the route that Life has mapped out for us.
With this self-focused approach on our goals, at no time do we stop and ask what are the consequences for our families, our marriages or relationships, our friendships and also the consequences for our health of all this pushing to “make life happen?” For many people that I have worked with as a coach, they have lost much that they hold dear as a result of this desire to be successful as defined by their goal setting and the material world. They have lost marriages, relationships with their children and friendships all in the name of achievement and success. On reflection, this endless ambition has made them, they acknowledge, lose touch with what is truly important in life. They have lost out on love, connection, intimacy and a host of other values that come with good relationships. Many high achievers are coming to realise that these are the things to value...and sometimes when it is too late.
So, what is the solution to all of this? The good news is that there is an alternative approach.
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of achievement that enables us to grow as people. This comes from calm reflection, an openness of mind that sees hitherto un-thought-of opportunities that are for us to embrace and taking practical, and intuitively guided, action. Within us all is a deep wisdom that can be used to guide every aspect of our existence. It can steer us to accomplish all that is for us to do; it can inspire us with new ideas and options that we had perhaps not considered and it can be nudge us in the creation of our dreams. And by dreams, I mean those ideas and seemingly random synchronicities that come to us that inspire us to act upon them. They are not goals that we set, but are ideas that well up from inside us, that just take hold of us. These dreams feel right, they energise us, they offer a win-win for all involved and they are in alignment with who we are.
Most importantly, our intuitive wisdom can guide us in how to be happy for it has our fulfilment at its core. It encourages us to focus on who we are being in any situation – in our relationships and friendships, in our work and in our giving to the world. For this is where our true happiness can lie: with a clear focus on being calm, centred and a bringer of happiness, joy and peace to those around us.
Furthermore, this wisdom can see the bigger picture of our lives. It knows our talents and skills. And it gives us gifts of creative insight at the perfect time. Often all we have to do is observe ‘what is Life offering me right now?’ ‘What things are happening naturally in my life at this moment?’ It may be that at this moment there is no action to take and no dream to act on. If we can accept this in the knowledge that all is well, then we are acting in alignment with the flow of our life.
A word of warning here: within our mind, we all have a voice that chatters away to us constantly. We call this voice our thoughts! That is not the voice we need to be listening to for access to our intuition. Our intuition comes to us with regularity with a strong gut feeling of ‘rightness’ about it. When we get an intuitive message, it is repetitive: do this, do this, do this, until you finally take that action. And we know deep down, without any doubt, that it is the right path for us to take.
So, my advice is to stop setting goals. Stop striving to achieve them. And let your natural instincts guide you in the right direction. You will feel happier, less stressed, and certainly far more fulfilled.