Happiness is not a prize you get sometime in the future, after you achieve a goal, or pass a test, or become worthy. If you believe that it is a prize you have to wait for, I guarantee that you are struggling to achieve your goals. You are sabotaging your own happiness due to a misguided belief about how to succeed.
The only practical way to achieve challenging goals is to build happiness into the process as you pursue them. Every step should be satisfying. When it succeeds, you feel joy, immediately. When it fails, you learn something, immediately. You already had an idea of what you had hoped to learn if the step didn’t succeed. You take pride in your resilience, foresightedness, and newfound knowledge. You don’t take failure personally, even when it reveals that you lack the degree of skill, knowledge, or motivation that was needed in this instance. You just take this information into account as you regroup and take the next step.
How do you do that? You need the basic skills involved in managing motivation: decision-making, cognitive self-awareness, emotional self-awareness. I introduce these in my free class on Own Your Motivation, and go in depth on them in Do What Matters Most.
In addition, you often need to rethink how to pursue the goal.
So often I hear from clients that they can’t enjoy the process in the short term, because they have to pass through a step that is excruciatingly painful, or boring, or disgusting to them. So they need to just “suck it up” and plow through to get to the other side.
“How can enjoy practice for my performance when I don’t?”
“How can I enjoy going to the gym when I hate the workout?”
“How can I enjoy my day job when I am just doing this until I can leave to do something else?”
They have given up on enjoying the process, and just want to know how to make themselves do it. The answer is, you can make yourself do it once or twice, but then you will burn out and learn to hate this necessary task. If you really want to succeed, you need to be more creative about how you approach unpleasant tasks. There is always another way.
To find the other way, you need to know both why you don’t like doing the task, and why you care about doing it. What is the value at stake? Through your values, you can add meaning to the task, and ensure that you get satisfaction from it.
For example, if you don’t enjoy practice, why? And why do you want to practice anyway?
I discussed this with someone on my Own Your Motivation call. He didn’t enjoy practicing for his dance performance. It was boring. When I asked what he enjoyed about the performance, he said he enjoyed the movement of his body, and the movement with the music. Now, there is no reason you couldn’t enjoy these values in practice, so I quizzed him some more. What was missing in practice? He may need to do some experimentation to figure that out—and put it in.
But I know that when I was a kid, I found practicing my flute boring, but I enjoyed playing in the band. In the band, the flutes were in conversation with other instruments. The trumpets would play a flourish, then we’d come in with a melody, then the clarinets would pick up the melody from us. I enjoyed the interaction of it. Knowing what I know now, I would have practiced with a recording so I could get that enjoyment. As an adult, I practice my flute more than I ever did as a child, but I practice only pieces that I like. So I get pleasure from the music as I make it. This has also led to my being more interested in getting a good tone, so I practice for that, too. I am consciously after values that I care about in every moment. The process is value-focused, and therefore satisfying, even when I haven’t played for a while and my tone is terrible and I make a lot of mistakes. I just play it again slower, or whatever, to hear the music better.
If you hate your workout, why? There are thousands of different exercise programs. Why not find one you like? I hate running but enjoy aerobics. I dislike going out to a yoga class but enjoy working to a Callanetics video.
Or if the only thing you hate is the experience of burn when you exert yourself, can you reframe the feeling of burn to be a symbol of something you value? That’s what I think about when I feel my legs burn—I visualize the muscles getting stronger and my leg getting more defined. I get a satisfaction from controlling my body as I work out.
The key to changing how you do an unpleasant task is to get very clear on the value at stake for you—in that moment. Not a value that you will get sometime in the future. A value that you care about, which you are gaining now.
If you have a “day job” that is not your passion, you need to find values in it. Your values. Why did you choose this day job rather than some other? For example, suppose you are an administrative assistant. Perhaps you can take pride in your efficiency. Or in your communication skills. Or in keeping things organized. Or in supporting the manager or team that you work with. This may take some introspection, but if you are qualified for a job, you must have some values related to it. Otherwise you would never have developed the knowledge and skills the job depends on. It is amazing how interesting you can make a job, if you don’t settle for its being a necessary evil.
I’m not saying it is easy to infuse every step with meaning, so that you gain satisfaction and pride and confidence as you proceed. Indeed, I have more than 20 hours of courses in the Thinking Lab explaining the “how to” of this, including how to adapt motivation for a long-range goal and bring it to tasks in the present.