Goal Attainment on Our Own Terms

I watched an interesting Ted Talk today by Derek Sivers. He shares that research shows that when we tell others about our goals the positive reinforcement and encouragement we receive from others tricks our minds into believing that the task is already complete. That surge of endorphins from hearing a friend’s encouragement leads us to feel as if our work is almost done and therefore to a decline in encouragement to proceed We have already reached our goal and therefore we do not take the necessary small steps required to assure its final accomplishment. I also read an excerpt on the Butterfly effect and how seemingly small occurrences in chaos theory account for incredible shifts in weather, environment, goal attainment. 

This has me thinking about my own goals and what I personally have been delaying. What tasks am I feeling confident about having done when in reality I have barely begun the process? One is a potential opportunity of publishing two books. When I was originally offered the opportunity to submit my work to be considered for publication I immediately shared the news with my family – I was just so excited! And being previously unaware of this research I shared far and wide this wonderful progress I was making toward my goals. Now as I reflect upon it I realize, I shared the news, felt the joy, and celebrated as if the offer were the end and not the beginning of a new journey. And since then I have procrastinated. I have submitted one document but not followed up on it. I have not even finished the revisions required to submit my second piece – these are not steps taken if one is serious about the accomplishment of their goals. 

I can see in my own life that the research holds – sharing the goals, I tricked my brain into thinking these steps were already complete when in all honesty they had only just begun. And again I’m sharing it not with you as a celebration but as a warning, if there is some goal you are holding in your heart, hold it a little closer to your chest and see if perhaps that illusion of having more work to do rather than the brief fulfillment of feeling celebrated and affirmed, doesn’t help you to make real progress toward your goal.

The lesson being, from my perspective, that every goal and dream you hold in your heart you were put here to attain. It was placed in your heart and soul for a reason, there is something you were meant to do with it. So don’t short change yourself, don’t get in your own way, keep you focus on your work and not on the accolades. Be attentive to your next step, your next goal. Instead of seeing the mountaintop far away and stopping long before you get there, take one next step, it’s the only way to move forward. While the steps are small, many small steps can lead to great progress. These little accomplishments build toward something great – a butterfly effect of accomplishment, goal attainment, and personal satisfaction. 

In the end it is personal pride and satisfaction we are after. Pride in one’s work, pride in the progress we have made. These are things we can celebrate and be proud of ourselves for and that is the accomplishment we celebrate. Our goals should not be for external validation, prizes, accolades. For while those things feel nice they are external validation and if we aren’t truly proud of ourselves, or of our work, or of how we got to wherever it is we are going – we are the ones who will know. We are the ones who will have to live with whatever corners have been cut or small indiscretions made in order to attain that applause. Therefore the work is the prize.

The real celebration will not be on a stage, the striving is the goal, the path and the journey we take is its own reward. Our accomplishments are not about trophies, which as Simone Biles will tell you, “is a silly goal.” Our goal should always be to show up as our best. To do our personal best and to keep striving to improve. Because in the end you cannot control if someone else is faster, stronger, smarter, etc. but you can control how often you practice, what you put in to your practice, and how you show up each day. Success is incremental and when we look inside ourselves we find what is truly important – personal satisfaction and pride in the work that we are doing and that feels far better than any prize. Don’t you agree?

Leave a Reply