Have you ever worked insanely hard towards a specific goal, and subsequently crushed that goal? I am sure you have. How did the achievement of that goal make you feel? Was that feeling everything you dreamt it would be? At first, I am sure it was. But after a short time, that feeling (and dopamine) starts to fade away and soon enough, we find ourselves looking for that next hit, that next level, that next goal to crush. And while crushing that next goal feels amazing at the time of achievement, it has little to no impact on our long term feelings of fulfillment, joy, and inner-peace.
Let me provide a real-life example. I graduated college when I was 21 years of age. I double majored in business and accounting, and I minored in exercise science. After graduating with an A average, I remember thinking to myself, “I FINALLY DID IT!” All of the long hours, sleepless nights, exam preparation, homework, hard work, and the NEVER-ENDING GRIND finally paid off. I felt accomplished. I felt entitled. I felt like I finally belonged “in the room”…….for about a whole 2 weeks. These feelings were wildly short-lived. Once the realization and experience of being thrusted into the real world sunk in, I panicked. It was time to visualize and CRUSH my next goal: Sit for and pass the Uniform Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. A bit of background here: the CPA exam is a gruesome 4 test (3-4 hours per test) journey with pass rates mirroring those of the Bar Exam! So what did I do? I put my nose down, shut out the rest of the world, moved to Rancho Cucamonga, and hustled harder than I ever had before for an entire 7 months. That’s right. 7 months. You have 18 months to pass the exam, I did it in 7. And shortly after taking my last exam, as I was lying in my bed checking my 4th and final score, deathly sick from the overbearing stress, horrible diet, and sleep deprivation I put myself through, I looked at my score on the lower left hand corner of my IPhone 4: I PASSED! I remember this event more vividly than I do most other events in my life. I worked so hard for this moment. I was ecstatic. I had done it! I had passed, WITH flying colors! What now?
Something similar to that post-graduation slump, within a few short weeks, I was looking for my next goal to crush, my next hit. To make a long story short, after passing my CPA, I studied for and passed exams to become a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and Behavioral Change Specialist. In fact, just the other day, I finished my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification and am now a Certified Yoga Instructor. I will be completely honest: I am 100% addicted to the chase, the grind, and the hustle. I’m obsessed.
I don’t tell you all of these “accomplishments” to boast or flex on anybody. I tell you these things because I have realized (and am still realizing) that if we continue to base our metric system on external accomplishments and material achievements, we will NEVER truly be satisfied, happy, or fulfilled!! As long as we continue to look for contentment, for joy, for happiness, & peace in the material items of this earth, we will continue searching, and grinding, and sacrificing, and running ourselves empty until the day we are buried 6 feet deep. While goals are extremely important to set and hard work is a characteristic I admire about anybody who portrays it, these are not how we should measure the quality, legacy, or self-worth of our lives!
So what do we do? Let me tell you one last story (which sparked my idea for this post) to provide a bit clarity on the matter. The other day as I was driving in Costa Mesa, CA: I noticed a soccer ball in the middle of the road. As I look to my right, I see a playground, with 15-20 elementary-aged kids engaged in quite an intense soccer match. After a bit of hesitation, I stopped, put my car in park in the middle of the street, and tossed the ball back to the kids. They couldn’t be happier. The look on these kids’ faces as I threw the ball back was priceless. Their reaction towards the fact that they got to keep playing and that their ball (and dreams of finishing the soccer match) didn’t get crushed in the middle of the street, truly moved me. At this moment, I felt more fulfilled than passing that CPA exam, than receiving all of those certifications, than the alphabet soup that comes after my name, even more than the respect I receive (or perceive that I receive) from others once they hear about my accomplishments. WHOA! WHY IS THIS?! I was perplexed. How the heck could I spend so much time grinding in isolation, sacrificing time with family and friends in order to achieve these amazing feats, yet still feel more fulfilled by completing a spontaneous 10 second good deed that took minimal effort to perform on my part? Well, (and I didn’t understand this at the time): the more we do for others, the more we feel fulfilled. This seems backwards right? From an early age, we are taught to compete, compete, compete; outperform, outperform, outperform; win, win, win! All of that is complete and utter bullshit. In Before Happiness by Shawn Achor, he explains that from an early age, we are taught that we must achieve success in order to be happy. He goes on in his book to debunk this myth and flip it upside down, stating that we must first be truly happy, in order to achieve success! The more we focus on ourselves (the ego), the more isolated, alone, anxious, stressed out, and depressed we will be! I truly believe in my heart that we are put here on this earth to help others in an effort to make this world a better place. This inherently elevates our vibe, energy, and quality of life.
Here are 5 ways to truly heighten peace, joy, and contentment in one’s life:
1. Do for others: I read in a book somewhere that “we spend the first 22 years of our lives being judged and praised for individual attributes and what we can achieve alone, when, for the rest of our lives, our success is almost entirely interconnected with that of others.” We cannot and should not go through this life alone. By doing for others, we give ourselves (and others) the gifts of love, compassion, and empathy. The more we practice this action, the more joy we will feel, and the more gratitude (for simply being able to breathe) we will experience.
2. Forgive: “What’s in it for me?!” you might ask. Those who forgive, besides enjoying better physical health, suffer less from anxiety and depression. Forgiveness also promotes physical and mental strength! Forgiving is a product not of effort, but of openness. This is why the intention to forgive is such a key element in the process. To be willing, but not quite ready to forgive holds the door open a crack. Feeling forgiveness by others can allow us to more deeply forgive ourselves! We maintain the intention to forgive because we understand that not forgiving hardens and imprisons our hearts. If we feel hatred towards anyone, we remain chained to the sufferings of the past and cannot find genuine peace. We forgive for the freedom of our own heart. AND, when we can learn to forgive, our circle of compassion naturally widens to include the other person.
3. Shift your perspective: Perspective determines reality. What this means is if you measure your self-worth based on the amount material items you possess, you will start to develop characteristics associated with these values. Whereas, if your self-worth is defined by good deeds, helping others & being an overall good person, you will develop characteristics associated with these values. They key here is to find that balance between the two. Remember, your thoughts determine perspective and perspective determines reality! Choose wisely.
4. Pause: Take a pause. When we pause, we don’t know what will happen next, but by disrupting our habitual behaviors, we open to the possibility of new and creative ways of responding to our wants, our fears, and our habits. Oftentimes, the moment when we most need to pause is exactly when it feels most intolerable to do so. Pausing in a fit of anger, or when overwhelmed by anxiety or filled with desire, may be the last thing we want to do. Through the sacred art of pausing, we develop the capacity to reflect, get in-tune with ourselves, to stop running away from our experience, and to feel, in the here and now.
5. Smile! The muscles used to make a smile actually send a biochemical message to our nervous system that it is safe to relax the fight, flight, or freeze response. A smile is the YES of unconditional friendliness that welcomes experiences without fear! So the next time you feel down or out of sorts, understand that all feelings are temporary and will eventually fade away. So remember to smile!
I will leave you with this: Happiness is not found in any outward or external achievement, but rather in doing for others. Happiness is not found in the past or the future, but rather in the present moment! Goal setting is often based on an attachment to achieving external outcomes, but where do these wants lead? To more wants. It is a vicious and toxic cycle that can take one away from experiencing that which one truly is. Pursuing things we don’t have, in order to feel happy, is a never ending race. I urge you to do for others, be a good person, and set goals that honor your DEEPEST needs.