As human beings we thrive on achieving goals. We get a nice little hit of dopamine, the happiness hormone, when we achieve something. Research has proved time and time again that we are at our happiest when we are improving.
Yet when we’re not making progress, it can be difficult to feel happy. When we notice we’re not making progress it can zap our energy and confidence and life can become a frustrating cycle of inactivity and stagnation. One reason we stop making goals for ourselves and stop progressing in life is the belief that we should accept who we are and not constantly strive to improve ourselves. The mistake we make with this is that whilst self-acceptance is imperative, it should actually be used as the basis for growth. When we’re not growing, learning and seeking improvements in our lives, we begin to justify mediocrity and tend to stagnate, accepting what is and stop believing we can be better.
A key tool for creating goal setting and progressing, is using our imagination. Yet as is so often the case, by the time we’ve reached mid life, we’ve stopped dreaming about what we want to achieve and feel quite negatively about goal setting. Instead of feeling confidence, happiness and satisfaction from achieving our goals, we feel we are always falling short. That leads to disappointment and we stop dreaming. We stop imagining the life we’d like to have or the person we’d like to be, quickly finding ourselves shattered by the pain of our reality.
Up until now, unless we work in the creative industry, we’ve found the idea of using ‘play’ a bit childish. In the West we’re mostly operating from our heads, the rational mind. But it’s beginning to be better understood, because using our imagination is actually one of the most powerful things we could ever do.
“Some adults try not to engage in make-believe anymore because they think it’s childish, but I don’t think we ever really outgrow it. In fact, I think that make-believe is the basis for all our motivations in life.” — Dan Sullivan
Have a look at the Ted Talk listed below for a deeper delve into the power of play in helping you move forward in life. You’ll never look back.
The gap and the gain
The problem with finding yourself disgruntled for not hitting the mark, is because the mark always changes and we’re always adapting, whether we realise it or not. What happens, therefore, is that we end up feeling like we’re never going to reach our goals. And herein lies one of the biggest misconceptions and reasons for failure, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. We measure against the goal, rather than where we’ve come from. Dan Sullivan calls this “the gap and the gain’. We measure always against the gap (the goal, which we never feel we’re reaching) rather than the gain (where we’ve come from). In measuring where we’ve come from, rather than where we’re trying to get to, we see results. We see things we’d taken for granted, or just well, not noticed. It’s a simple, yet profound change in perception, and what I love about it is the power it has to instantly shift us up a gear. It’s so, so simple, yet has an immediate, positive impact on our thinking.
Tips for a happier life
- Take time out to imagine the life you’d like to have, the dreams you want to come true, the things you want in life. Try and find time alone to dream, vision, think big. You can read more about this in the link at the bottom of this article.
- Find and make the time to use play and imagination– see the Ted Talk link below. Successful people see play as the key to creativity and realisation. Using your imagination is a key learning skill. This may not come naturally to you at first. Like most things, it’s a skill you need to practice. Question everything, don’t take anything as a given. Begin challenging the status quo. Play make believe and believe anything is possible.
- Your goals need to be easy to measure, not wishy-washy. You cannot easily measure them if they are vague, so be very clear on what they are.
- Regularly celebrate the gap and the gain. The only way you can do this is to write down and track your success. Look back at how far you’ve come (I find it useful to do this weekly, but monthly is ok too) and celebrate what you’ve achieved. DO NOT look ahead at how far you’ve got to go as this will only lead to dissatisfaction.
- Be grateful to all those who have helped you along the way, including yourself. This is very powerful and very important. Do this daily; it will change your life. Gratitude has been called the mother of all virtue, so don’t underestimate the power of this simple act.
- Don’t be put off if the ‘event’ (goal) is not as great as you imagined it would be. You’ve adapted along the way, so this is perfectly normal. In imagining it, you’ve already had a great deal of benefit out of the process, which is great and serve to drive us forwards.
- Place high value on what you want to achieve. This will help a great deal in achieving them.
- Believe you can achieve whatever you set your mind to and adopt the behaviours required to do them which includes being in the right environments with the right people to support you in achieving them.
“Play leads to brain plasticity, adaptability, and creativity… Nothing fires up the brain like play.” Stuart Brown Ted Talk. https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital?language=en
The Happy Secret to Better Work – Shawn Achor https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work
More on the power of goal setting here: “If you do one thing today, make it this” https://medium.com/@justclembo/if-you-do-one-thing-today-make-it-this-c137515b669a
If you struggle with keeping your emotions in check, read this: https://thelifeadventure.co/you-are-what-you-feel/