Human beings are wired to want the next thing. And the next, and the next, and the next. Desire is rooted in raw survival instinct. This applies to anything we enjoy — achieving our career goals, tasty food, physical intimacy.
The flip side of this, of course, is the dissatisfaction that often comes with unfulfilled longings or outcomes we have yet to achieve. It can give a sense of “never enough” or grass is greener. Even if we get the thing we want, we almost immediately want more, or we want something else. Our achievements often come from a disempowered place.
Joyful success, on the other hand, embraces the paradox of wanting and striving for desired outcomes from a place of perfect fullness and contentment. Not from lack, not from “should,” not from “I won’t be happy or complete until I get it,” and not because our egos depend on it. This is the essence of coaching, in my opinion, at least the personal (versus leadership and performance) coaching that I do.
It’s a simple idea, and like meditation, difficult in practice, requiring effort with surrender, shining a light on blind spots in our relationships with ourselves and with achievement.
There’s no one size fits all solution, but there are a number of practices that, practiced in earnest, work roughly the right muscle:
- Goals with rewards. I know very successful people who grind it out on autopilot. Success is a must — not something to celebrate or be rewarded. This can be an issue for “overachievers” as well as people who are simply passionate about their work like entrepreneurs. Either way, they lose themselves in it and it becomes less than fulfilling, or at least less fulfilling than it could be. Setting goals with personal rewards or rest periods attached is an obvious and often overlooked structure to revitalization. It’s a big shift from seeing one’s purpose and identity AS their work, to expressing one’s purpose and identity through it.
- Gratitude. There is gobs of research on gratitude being good for you — gratitude being defined as “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness, and appreciation for life.*” Gratitude makes us incredibly resilient and brings attention to what’s going right. “Brags” (expressing things you’re proud of) and savoring (intentionally leaning into and prolonging enjoyable thoughts or experiences) work great too. These practices work the contentment muscle generally — apply them to anything achievement related and enjoy the improved relationship to your work.
- Best self avatars. Envisioning who you want to be in the world and in particular roles (for example, as a leader) can be an extremely potent motivator and joy source. Getting up close and personal with our best selves serves as a reminder that our goals are never entirely outside of us, and regardless of how it’s going in the moment, there’s satisfaction in the fact that we’re fully showing up.
What one action will support your success to be more joyful this week?
For many high achievers, joyful success is a lofty goal — and it’s totally achievable.
Want your goals and success to work for you — versus slaving away? If you’re a lady, you may be a perfect candidate for my upcoming women’s retreat. Check out the goodies and the details.
*Emmons & Shelton (2002). Gratitude and the science of positive psychology. In Snyder and Lopez (eds.). Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 459–71).