Your Goals Might be Killing Your Happiness

Three strategies to reduce stress and boost satisfaction in your work

There’s a common mistake people make when setting goals, or trying to create positive life changes.

It leads to elevated stress and unhappiness if you aren’t aware of it.

The mistake is to focus on the destination of where you’re going instead of the journey of what you’re doing.

When you overemphasize the endpoint of a journey, you get caught longing for what will be, instead of accepting what is.

“Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get something.”
Naval Ravikant

Longing for the destination of whatever you’re doing creates unhappiness and distress in the present.

Veruca Salt Syndrome

Remember the demanding young girl in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?

“I want a golden goose…and I want it now!”

Desire fixed her focus on something she didn’t have. She wanted that golden goose, and not having it created incredible frustration!

It’s an extreme example, but you and I behave like Veruca from time to time.

This is an age of instant gratification. Food, movies, music, and more can be yours with the tap of a screen.

Expectations of immediacy (impatience) creep into other parts of life without you realizing.

I call it Veruca Salt Syndrome. It’s when you let the fact that you haven’t reached your destination yet bring you down.

Progress takes patience.

Projections, goals, and expectations are great to hold you accountable.

But sometimes it just takes longer than you think it will to accomplish something you set out to do. And that’s okay!

When you latch on to the end result, you limit your satisfaction and happiness to a specific point in time. Crossing the “finish line” brings a surge of joy! But it doesn’t take long before you attach to another destination.

The cycle repeats itself…

Unless you decide to change your mindset!

Instead of focusing on the end-point, think about what you can do to make progress towards the destination.

Focus on the Journey

Emphasizing the journey means you get satisfaction from the work you put in, not just the end result.

Doing this links your satisfaction to something that’s in your control (the work you put in).

Focusing on the results of your work (the destination) does the opposite. It links your personal satisfaction to something outside of your control.

It will always be more productive to focus your energy on what’s in your control.

Here’s how to get started.

Hiking is literally about the journey. When you start wishing you were at the destination, the hike loses its fun.

How to Start Paying Attention to the Journey

1. Accept that progress takes patience, and that a journey is made from small steps.

The infamous “startup in a garage” stories are a great lesson here. Anything great that’s ever been done started from nothing and grew over time. You don’t get where you want to go in massive leaps. It all happens in small steps.

2. Ask yourself three big questions every day to stay focused on the journey.

  • What can I do today to make it a great day?
    This focuses you on action instead of desire.
  • Am I working from my priorities?
    This question is about focus. I’ve been a Type-A overachiever for most of my life. I always tried to do too much at once. Now, I choose to do fewer different things in my life. But most things I do week-to-week matter to me. If you answer “yes” to this, then you know you’re heading in the right direction! If not, you need to rebalance what you spend your time on week-to-week. Clarify your priorities with The 20 Minute Life Checkup if needed.
  • Am I working on high-impact activities?
    There are countless ways to approach any goal/priority. If you believe you’re working towards your destination in an effective manner, take comfort in the fact that you’re working towards your destination! If not, take the opportunity to explore a different path.

3. Keep track of the little wins in your day-to-day

Some days, it can feel like you didn’t do much of anything. It’s a corrosive feeling that I’m all too familiar with it. But I started keeping better track of the little things in my life and work. It gives me pride to count the little victories every day.

Here’s my current strategy for tracking the little things:

  • Keep a “Work Journal” that answers two questions
    1. What did I work on today?
    Appreciate what you’ve done. Even the little tasks!
    2. What are the 3 most important things that I should focus on tomorrow?
    Prime yourself you for future action. It makes the next day easier too.
  • Keep a gratitude journal at home
    Appreciating the many gifts you have helps to raise your spirits when done consistently. For advice on how to get started, check out this guide.

Journey > Destination

When you’re doing something new, or chasing a big goal, it’s natural to get excited about what’s to come.

Don’t let your enthusiasm infect you with excess amounts of desire. Latching on to your end goal breeds dissatisfaction.

Instead, focus on the journey.

When you get satisfaction from the process of taking action, you’re always in control. You don’t get bent out of shape when things don’t go according to plan.

All that matters is the quality of the effort you put forth.

Originally published at

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