Why it Sometimes Feels Underwhelming to Complete Your Goals

Setting goals is a great way to stay focused on what you want to accomplish. Whether they are in your personal or professional life, goals keep us motivated. Whether your goals are big or small, working towards them can be extremely rewarding. However, I know from personal experience that sometimes accomplishing goals can feel incredibly underwhelming. When I made the goal to achieve a certain grade in a course this semester, at first, I was excited when I found out I got a better grade than I had initially set out to get. This was more than what I wanted but after that immediate joy subsided, I felt weirdly unsatisfied. I couldn’t explain why, I had worked so hard towards something that I knew I wanted, and still wanted, but it just didn’t feel exciting anymore. This led to some further investigation because I knew I couldn’t be alone in my disappointment.

As it turns out, feeling underwhelmed after accomplishing a goal is much more common than I expected. Reaching a goal and anticipating the outcome can release dopamine, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter. Every milestone you hit on your journey towards reaching the goal gives you dopamine and then once the goal is complete, that anticipation and dopamine drops. The journey can sometimes feel more exciting than the destination. It is also common to experience the arrival fallacy, which is a term coined by positive psychology expert Tal Ben-Shahar. The arrival fallacy is the idea that during the process of reaching a goal, you realize that you’ll reach it and therefore you’ve already felt accomplished and satisfied. Ben-Shahar argues that “arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” This idea can be attributed to why a lot of rich, successful people end up feeling empty after achieving the goals they so desperately wanted at one point. They believe that once they’ve made it big, they’ll be happy, but once they make it big, they only want more. The goal, once completed, is expected and fulfilled and your life probably doesn’t feel drastically different since you’ve been working towards the goal for some time. This goal has become incorporated into your life and is no longer some far-away, unrealistic dream.

When speaking to The New York Times, Dr. Jamie Gruman, a professor at the University of Guelph, acknowledges the responsibilities that often come with achievements. He tells students in his business management courses: “You guys want so badly to be managers, but you know what? It’s probably going to be very different than what you think it’s going to be. You know what? You might not even like it.” When we equate ultimate happiness with the goals we set, we assume that there will be some drastic improvement in our lives, and in our happiness. The reality is, we never really know if these goals will make us happy. We become so fixated on the idea that we will be happier once our lives look like how we want them to look and that losing weight, getting promoted and getting good grades will validate and complete us. Although these things may improve certain aspects of our lives, it shouldn’t be the only thing that our happiness becomes dependent on.

Acknowledging that there may be feelings of disappointment when you reach your goals doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard to achieve them. There’s just no fun in remaining stagnant. Set realistic expectations and remember to enjoy the process, small successes are still successes. Once you’ve achieved your goal, think back to where you were when you first began the journey. Think back to how bad you wanted it, why it meant so much to you and take a moment to truly appreciate the time and effort you put in. You couldn’t have done it without all the hard work and you should take the time to thank yourself for that.

 

References:

Shilton, A. C. “You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 May 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/smarter-living/you-accomplished-something-great-so-now-what.html.

Thibodeaux, Wanda. “Why You Might Feel Empty After Reaching a Huge Goal (and How to Move On).” Inc.com, Inc., 26 Mar. 2018, www.inc.com/wanda-thibodeaux/why-you-might-feel-empty-after-reaching-a-huge-goal-and-how-to-move-on.html.