You reached your goal! It’s time to celebrate, call up some friends, and go out on the town. Except that rarely happens. What happens most often is . . . nothing at all.
It might sound counterintuitive, but achieving a goal is not always the great thing it’s cracked up to be. It’s not the goal’s fault. If a goal could talk, it would probably tell you to acknowledge and celebrate your achievement. But you blew right by it on your way to the next thing because you’re thinking, “I’ll feel financially secure when”; “I’ll be the authority in my field when”; “I’ll feel like I’ve made it when.” When you do this, you’re setting yourself up to feel chronically dissatisfied.
The goalpost syndrome
We like to think of this as goalpost syndrome—where you never really reach your goal because as soon as you get there, you’ve already moved the posts.
Years ago, I started working with a client who was desperate to save their company. They had generated zero revenue so far that year. Less than three months later, they were profitable again. It was a huge win and was what they wanted when they were bringing in no money. Yet they weren’t satisfied. They’d already moved the goalpost from keeping the lights on to hitting multi-six-figure revenue that year.
You see, highly driven people diminish their wins (sometimes they don’t even acknowledge them.) Rather than take a moment to celebrate and reflect on the journey, they rush right into working on their next goal. It’s like running a race that doesn’t have a finish line. You keep putting one foot in front of the other to start the next race. And the one after that. Eventually, you’ll end up burned out, unhappy, and overwhelmed. This is the curse of setting goals.
How to change the way that you think about goals
The good news is that a slight reframe on goal achievement will give you the satisfaction and excitement you want from setting (and achieving) goals. All you have to do is place equal importance on goal setting, strategy, and consistent reflection. You probably take time to set goals, and you probably take the time to think through your strategy. But we’re guessing you rarely take time to pause and reflect.
We recommend taking a one week break in between achieving a goal and setting a new one. Give yourself time to exhale, celebrate, and integrate what you’ve learned. To celebrate reaching their goals, our clients have done a variety of things—from throwing a party to taking a few hours to themselves. What is most significant is that you take a moment to feel the satisfaction and acknowledge that you have completed something that was important to you.
To integrate what you’ve learned, ask the following questions:
- Knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?
- What challenges did I face, and how did I overcome them?
- What worked well, and what didn’t?
- What are my next steps?
For example, we recently asked a client, “knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?” in regard to a sizeable in-person event she was hosting. She immediately named three key lessons she’d learned along the way and appreciated the question so much that she decided to turn her answers into a blog post for her audience.
When you stop to reflect, you realize what you learned. You also know what you need to do to get a different outcome. You can then move on to implement what you’ve learned while giving yourself a chance to restore before setting new goals.
If you want to get good at this, make reflection a daily part of your week. Think about the challenges that have taught you lessons and celebrate all of your wins and accomplishments. When you have the habit of pausing in place, you’ll stop running an endless race. Instead, you’ll realize that where you are right now is as satisfying as where you think you want to be.
Ali Schiller and Marissa Boisvert are the co-owners of Accountability Works®, a mindfulness-based coaching company that helps highly driven professionals accomplish their goals without sacrificing their health.