Progress is part of life: you set goals and work hard to achieve them. Sure, you can live your life aimlessly and just wait for things to happen. You might be lucky and have amazing experiences along the way just by pure chance, or you may have a fairly uneventful life (and there’s nothing wrong with that, by the way). What happens when you have reached a goal that took years to come to fruition?
Is The Journey Better Than The Destination?
When you travel, there can be many elements of struggle: queues at the airport, miscommunication problems, delays, loss or theft of belongings, bad weather and so on. On arrival to your destination, your expectations may get crushed by reality, or you may be pleasantly surprised. However, once you have visited a place of interest that had been on your bucket list for a long time, you probably need a new challenge and start planning ahead for the next destination.
What are the next steps when you reach important goals in your life?
In the work environment, getting a promotion is a smart goal that you are encouraged to chase.
In your personal life, a major milestone could be in the area of relationships, from getting married to having children.
There are many other types of goals, for example financial goals such as paying off debt and buying a house.
Each goal is linked to a mix of emotions as well as expectations. You may put some aspects of your life on hold while you do your best to reach your goals. There is a lot at stake.
What The Experts Say
In a nutshell, achieving your goals does not equate to happiness. Reaching an important milestone will give you a sense of elation for a short time, followed by a “what next?” mode of thinking. You are projecting your mind into the future, because the future has a semblance of being better than the present moment.
Getting things done is linked with a sense of attainment, a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
Case Study: My Experience of Buying a House
A case in point for the sense of anti climax from reaching an important life goal was buying my house in Ireland. The whole process took almost three years from first listing my studio flat in London for sale to getting the keys to my house in Ireland.
Selling a flat was extremely stressful and frustrating, each day bringing a sense of defeat and disillusionment. House hunting was significantly better, as it allowed me to see different parts of Ireland, but demand outstripped supply so for each property you had to compete with a dozen buyers.
I can safely say, a year after moving into my new house, that my problems didn’t magically disappear just because I reached this goal. You still need to work on building a new life, including making new connections, which is probably the most important element if you are moving to a different country.
I can also openly admit that I didn’t allow myself to celebrate my achievement and dove head first into refurbishing the house. It wasn’t a major project but mostly removing wallpaper and decorating. After completing the redecoration, I felt at a loss because I didn’t have any new goals to achieve.
I actually felt a sense of emptiness. After years of waiting for my life to get better, my day-to-day routine was pretty much the same as before, with the only difference that I didn’t have a support system anymore.
I also suffered from what I would call “goal fatigue”: I didn’t feel motivated to set more ambitious goals for myself because I felt depleted (while still also feeling accomplished).
I was rather taken aback by an interview that chef Tom Kerridge did on Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast: he turned his life around after quitting alcohol and losing weight, but he also admitted that he no longer enjoys the present moment and is solely focused on the future. He is definitely a highly driven individual who thrives on setting himself challenges and ambitious goals.
It made me think: is life truly binary? You either are hell-bent on achieving goals or you slow down to smell the roses (and lose precious time that you should instead use for achieving goals).
Is getting what you want going to make you unhappy?
Maybe the secret is looking back at what you didn’t have or didn’t do and see how far you’ve come.
What Should You Do?
Various articles agree that appreciating the present moment and enjoying the process are key to help you feel happier. As much as social media can be a distraction, sometimes it can be useful for those moments when you feel stuck. You can look back at the past 6 months, past year or past 5 years and see how much things around you have changed and, most importantly, how much you have changed.
Feeling grateful for what you have and what you have accomplished is also a major part in shifting your thinking to a more positive mindset.
To be honest there is no simple solution to feeling deflated after getting what you want.
I still struggle with the concept of anti climax after achieving goals. The work continues (now, where’s that paint pot? I have an urge to redecorate the hallway).