Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pleasure of Never Reaching a Goal

By Kevin Burns

I remember years ago attending a seminar on goal setting. This was sort of a generic goal-setting workshop that had the participants write down things that they wanted to accomplish in life -- a sort of "Bucket List" if you will. Then a bunch of magazines were distributed to the participants, and we were handed scissors to cut out pictures of the things we wanted. Those pictures were to be glued to a board as a collage of all of the things we wanted to have or accomplish with our lives. It sort of felt like kindergarten class again.

We were told to, each day, visualize that we had already accomplished what we each said we wanted and to focus on pretending that it was a done-deal. I had difficulty subscribing to the concept of trying to trick my brain into seeing it as already completed. I mean, there was no work involved. According to the seminar leader, believe it and stuff would just show up magically.

I was at a loss for words to explain how cheated I felt in this session. I had hoped to find a blueprint to do the work, but instead I was being asked to believe that simply thinking it would make it so. And I suppose it could for anyone, provided there was no reality involved like bills showing up and bank statements indicating that each participant was a little shy of their goal of millions of dollars in the bank. In other words, there was no strategy to overcome reality. Just dream it and it will be so. Sorry. Didn't buy it.

So recently, when I read in the Lifehack Blog, an article on The Science of Setting Goals, I realized why I didn't subscribe to the "motivational speaker" concept of goal setting. It turns out that it is actually the pursuit of a goal that releases dopamine into the brain -- a kind of "feel-good" chemical that brings pleasure. When the goal is achieved, the dopamine release stops. Therefore, pleasure stops. So it turns out that there seems to be less satisfaction and personal pleasure in achieving a goal than there is in relentlessly pursuing the goal.

Once a person achieves a goal, it's over. There is no more mission, no more purpose, no more reason to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps it's the reason that people who have a windfall of money end up doing nothing and eventually spend their windfall. They are looking for a high of dopamine pleasure that only exists in pursuing something worthwhile -- not in actually getting it. Once you have accumulated everything you say you ever wanted in life, it doesn't seem to matter anymore.

Now the smart goal-setters are the ones who keep their goals just out of reach. What I mean by that is to set goals for yourself that will require you to stretch yourself a little. The goals can't be easy. There has to be some work involved.

Attitude Adjustment: Set your goals so that you have to work for them. Once you feel and see yourself getting close to attaining the goal, simply move the line away a little more so it is just a little out of reach again. You will find, over time, that you were capable of attaining things you never thought you could do. Keep moving the line further and further away -- but still within reach if you work at it. You will find that there is a whole lot more pleasure in realizing how far you are capable of stretching yourself than the pleasure you would find in attaining a goal and then resting on your laurels because you think you've accomplished something. Develop the attitude of believing that you are always capable of more -- and more is what you will do and more is what you will have. There's a great deal of pleasure in that.

About the Author:

Kevin Burns, Author & Attitude Adjuster, is an attitude expert in Employee Engagement, Service, and Safety. Kevin believes better people offer better service, make better sales, get along better, communicate better, engage themselves better, manage better, and overall, make your organization better and safer as a whole. He delivers high-energy and hilarious keynote presentations to corporate and association audiences throughout North America. To inquire about Kevin's availability, call toll-free 1-877-BURNS-11.

More info on Kevin's programs at

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Great topic. Applies to any goals, but perfectly to exercise. Now that you've run your marathon, what is YOUR next running goal?