The dark side of the goals: six ways they ruin your happiness
For years now we’ve been recording and analyzing the experience of hundreds of people in setting and achieving goals, ours including.
These are the findings. All may seem perfectly peachy but there is still some rot on the inside.
On the road to success, you wouldn’t expect to be awarded such “bonuses” as lowered self-esteem, not being in touch with reality or to loose old friends and even start doubting its worth. Up your guard! There are quite a few ambushes like these waiting for you along the way.
And now the good news – it isn’t inevitable!
We are laying out in front of you the six major goal obstacles, their origin and most importantly, how to steer clear of them. You can start learning how right away.
Trap #1: Goals can seriously distort your sense of reality
We were often told about this unusual sensation as if you are losing ground under your feet.
The danger of striving hard for big accomplishments is to start living in this dream world where your mind escapes and leaves you behind in the present. In other words, you spend too much time daydreaming about the future and become less and less aware of what’s for real.
The consequences could be reluctance and even inability to set goals. Where does it all come from?
Living in the here and now
The problem is probably rooted in Eckhart Tolle’s popular theory and the eponymous book “The Power of Now”. Like the classics, the author is more quoted than read. Unfortunately, he is often misunderstood as well.
A thesis of his is that when thinking about the past one undergoes pain and guilt while future invokes insecurity and anxiety, ergo salvation is in the present day and the only reality is now.
Many of his fans don’t quite get him and therefore employ this passive attitude towards life with a belief that all that comes our way is good and because of that, there is no need to do things differently. But the fact is that he didn’t condemn setting goals. On the contrary, he emphasizes its role for the present – what you do now affects what waits for you in the future.
Let’s leave Mr. Tolle and see how you can spare yourself all the time wasted in too much planning.
Past, present, and future – all to your benefit
Why take things so literally when you can use the whole “spectrum”!
It all depends on how you perceive time.
The strategy to be always firmly grounded is quite simple indeed – live in the present but make sure you also take advantage of past and future.
Let your previous achievements make you proud and self-assured. Then you can draw ambitious visions as this is the motivational force that kicks you out of bed every morning.
Trap # 2 Goals can ruin your confidence
This is a crucial and, sadly, quite a common problem.
It’s not dreams per se but when they burn and crash that shatters your cool. Two are the reasons for this fiery end. Let’s address them:
A series of accidents
If you are a doer like us, then you’d rather hit the ground running and, if necessary later, alter the course of action.
The trial-and-error method inherently carries the risk of overdoing it when almost all “trials” pair up with only “errors”. Very few people can fall and quickly get up on their feet and then do it again and again… 100 times over. For the rest, this is unsustainable and will gradually wear them out depleting self-respect and motivation till the moment of simply quitting.
Don’t give goals a bad name
If you think about it, confidence is such a delicate creature! Almost anything can hurt it. One sure way is to set your objectives incorrectly.
For example, “I have to loose X pounds”.
We all know too well how things usually go. You employ one after another anything you can think of: diet, exercise, web calorie counters, self-help literature … and to no avail.
You simply end up convincing yourself that there are a number of factors that just make it impossible to whip yourself into shape. No matter what you try the scales aren’t going down except that your self-esteem does…
You need a system. And the right one no less!
This is the key:
You need a sound and tested system like “GoalBuddy” in order to avoid the downward spiral of limiting believes and no faith in yourself.
It’s the only tool to set direction, to clearly define objectives, to monitor and analyze and, finally, to register success.
If the system is no good then don’t even bother to set goals!
Since every detail is of importance – try and put your trust in “GoalBuddy” and adhere to its basic principles, but first and foremost this one, “There are no failures, only lessons learned.” You do this and will quickly find out how healthy it is for your confidence.
Trap # 3 Having objectives is like recognizing that you are not happy
First, ask yourself why you want to do any of that. Your forgone conclusion will most likely be that you are simply not satisfied. And that’s okay, there’s nothing wrong with it.
But then, why this is looked at as a problem?
“More is never enough”
In today’s dynamic and fast changing times there is this high priority virtue to be successful in every possible aspect of your life. But the focus is entirely on the finish line and not on the underlying driving forces such as the inner drive for personal improvement.
The desire to achieve starts with the need for progress. Admitting this isn’t a cake walk. It’s about being aware of where you are at the moment and where you have to go.
Change is inevitable
It is only human to feel yourself down once in a while but this isn’t a good excuse to give up on your aspirations. There is no difference between the self-preservation instinct and the desire to evolve. Especially, nowadays when you are “constantly running but remaining in the same spot”…
It is okay to be flawed. Worse is when you’ve lost your strife for betterment. So, don’t desert your dreams. They are not the enemy of your self-esteem. On the contrary, they are the fair winds in the sails of your own progress.
Trap # 4 The other side effect – the sense of frustration
When you set goals, you usually visualize them as a concrete result. But it has been proven that you cannot control it, and the fallout is a great deal of anxiety.
There is this unwanted byproduct, a negative attitude forcing you to start believing you are not to succeed.
It’s not up to you
The problem here is that you obsess with something beyond your power, as is the end result. If you are honest with yourself then you have to answer this question – what depends on me in the first place.
Haven’t you had this feeling how difficult it is to exert control even over your own thoughts! They may come in and go as if unwelcomed strangers in your own house.
Now you can image how much harder it is with things you have no influence whatsoever.
Take things into your own hands
It is as simple as it gets: accept that hitting the bull’s eye may not be entirely up to you. Your actions, however, are… and only to a degree.
So, try to formulate your objectives in such a way that they depend entirely on you. Forget “dropping 5 pounds” and try to “go four times a week to the gym and eat no carbs in the evening.”
It’s only you who is responsible for the action goal. If the desired effect doesn’t happen then it is you again, and nobody else, who needs to adjust and correct. But then, no sense of helplessness will ever arise when you are in charge.
Trap # 5 Loosing friends – the “Pyrrhic” victory
Or to be more precise, one can say that your environment has changed.
With every step forward you pull further and further away from all those class mates for whom Prom Night was the high point of their life.
It just happens that when you aim big and then succeed you are as if speeding away on the highway while the rest are still bumping down and along a dirt road.
The problem isn’t you.
“You become who you hang out with”
Yes, that’s what your grandmother used to warn you about. And Jim Rohn (perhaps stealing this piece of wisdom from her) says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
When you rack up one win after another and life changes accordingly there is the risk of becoming distant from your loved ones. Sometimes it all comes down to the fact that you don’t even want to let your less successful friends drag you down, or they simply don’t share the same idea for self-realization.
“Meet the gang”
Don’t drop off old friends – perhaps even Jim Rohn himself wouldn’t deny that an old friend is worth more than two new ones.
Let’s not forget that everyone is responsible for their own lives. You can’t stop, just because others have stalled. If time with them is valuable, use it for shared experiences – be that a glass of beer or some tennis. Just keep in mind that you also need a diverse environment for personal growth.
Fortunately, when up and on the rise you will invariably find yourself in a new set of circumstances. More and unexpected opportunities will open up in front of you as well. These could be people whose companionship is satisfying and nurtures some good traits in personal as well as in a professional aspect. And don’t you dare miss on even the smallest chance here!
Trap # 6 Is it all over when you finally reach a life long dream?
What if your glory days are already behind you? Does it mean that a spectacular success is the end of it all?
You’ve won a gold medal. You’ve been President of the United States for two terms in a roll. You sold 3 billion copies of your new album. Now what?
“It’s all downhill from here”
This is not just a motivation spoiler but it is also perhaps a top “cause of death” for so many of the “dream of my life”. Everyday things in particular and the important ones, in general, tend to loose meaning after a major win.
It afflicted both of us too. No, it wasn’t an Olympic medal. It was this smaller but significant project we have worked hard on for a long time. We did make it and felt as if on the top of the world for a while, and then … life goes on, and we continue with our trivial daily routines.
In the aftermath of a great triumph, you quickly lose direction. How do you deal with this?
There is a law of nature at work here. Everything evolves – either that or it’s the end of it. And the human being is no exception to this rule.
Your only way out is forward. Just don’t waste time and aim at what’s next.
But what if it can’t be as grand as before? Then let it be different, i.e. the new and unfamiliar thing that will pull you out of your comfort zone and will require all of your courage and passion.
Some psychology research suggests that two of the main stimuli for happiness are personal thriving and socially responsible behavior. You are a celebrity athlete? Be a role model for young children. Or you are an ex-president then run your presidential library and raise the public awareness on the pressing and worthwhile issues. If you’re already a rock-star then start making… art!
The idea is to not stop challenging yourself. Enjoy the trip, not the reward. And this will give greater longevity to your happiness.
Take a walk on the bright side
Goals are a good thing after all. Don’t be afraid of them or the trouble they can bring. Instead, try to imagine how much better of a person you would be because of them.
And if we’ve missed a bad “side effect” or two in this article then we’ll be more than happy to hear about it. Suggest and contribute in your comments. Together we can find a solution.
Thank you and see you soon!
2 thoughts on “The dark side of the goals: six ways they ruin your happiness”
Thank you for putting all this together. I am starting to work with goals for the umpteenth time, again. I really liked reading this, and will read again and again as it is full of things that resonate with how I conceive the things that you cover.
Allow me, to humbly and without offense to you, suggest that you or someone perform a better edit of the your writing. I refer to some words left out that would help readers who may be more finicky about form. Basically grammar and syntax improvements, an easy edit. Style wise you are good. Me, I can focus the message, but when writing do a good edit. I know that is extra work and in any case, it does not put me off overall, but they are bumps in the road when reading. Capiche? I had been aware of the idea of objectives as a metadata admission self that I am not enough. I currently live in Thailand, and the Buddhist practices here are somewhat antithetical to goals. It is a don’t worry, don’t think kind of culture. I have thought for many years that the whole be here now thing was mostly non-sense. I would rather subscribe to there is no NOW. To my way of thinking, there is past and future, the now is instantly siphoned off in to memory or hope, so for most purposes too much emphasis on the now is a kind of trick that can only lead to stagnation.
Bests, and I look forward to knowing more about you and yours,
Asher, (nickname is Imsad, yeah it a funny nickname but suits me perfectly.)
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