Achievement is addictive. But it does not automatically lead to bliss. I am referring to what researchers call the arrival fallacy — the mistaken belief that once we accomplish our goals we will be happy. We think that finishing a big project, earning a promotion, or receiving positive feedback from our boss will bring us joy. But the reality is that these individual moments rarely lead to long-term fulfillment.
It takes a lifetime of setting and meeting goals to build a foundation where sustainable happiness can thrive.
If you are like me, you are intrinsically motivated to achieve. You set audacious goals for yourself and enjoy hard work for its own sake. But being a high achiever does not make you immune to the empty feeling that can come when a big project is completed or a new career high is reached. Ennui can set in if you do not have a clear path for what comes next. And even if you do, you may still need to cultivate your inner drive to regain steam.
The high of achieving a major milestone may have a corresponding low. I am sure you can relate. Ambitious goals require you to focus all of your energy — it can be jarring when that suddenly ends. What will you do next, you wonder? The unsettling feelings will even out and return to equilibrium. You just need to understand how to move past that initial letdown to rebuild the momentum and accomplish more.
Having a strong sense of purpose and learning to motivate yourself will help you do this over the long term.
I like to think of intrinsic motivation as an eternal flame. No one can extinguish it because it always fuels you. If you find yourself becoming complacent or even depressed after achieving a large goal, you need to remind yourself of what drives you. Here is how to push yourself to shine brighter and stay motivated after a big win:
Take the time to appreciate what you just accomplished. Understand that there might be a post-celebration let-down. Honor your effort and the outcome and take a breath before you rush on to the next task.
Achievements may feel meaningless without a larger and longer-term goal. So take the time to create (or reassess) your vision. Ask yourself, “What is my ultimate aim?” “What am I working for?” Reflect on how each intermediate goal you set helps you move closer to realizing your overarching vision. Reconnect with your broader roadmap so that you can quickly power on to the next objective.
Focus is necessary to achieve any goal. Yet working towards only one goal at a time can be myopic. Counteract this by setting multiple objectives that you can honestly make progress against. Try to work towards two to three of your goals at any given time. Devoting even an hour each day can build momentum and always give you another goal to aim for when one is realized.
Appreciate the knowledge and experience you gained in the time that you were working on that project or building that career path. Then find meaning by sharing it with others. You can mentor a junior colleague or help your teammates in a more informal way. What is important is that you figure out how to serve others in a way that makes you happy and contributes to your growth.
Achieving something big does not guarantee happiness — you need to have an inner purpose that is out on the horizon and keep moving towards it.
No matter how you define it, success is crafted on a lifetime of work. It takes self-awareness and self-reflection. Use each win to motivate you to make progress towards the next. Take time to celebrate yourself and others and stay focused on what you are really working for.
How do you move forward with purpose after accomplishing a big goal?