In the modern world, our minutes, hours, and days are filled with an endless stream of tasks. Just clearing the inbox can feel like a major accomplishment, not to mention responding to everyone who has reached out to you via Twitter, Tumbler, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, and the good-old cell phone. Keeping up with news and politics, doing the laundry so your colleague in the open-plan office can’t smell you, putting together a meal for the kids that doesn’t include chicken nuggets, actually shaving both legs on the same day—our lives are a perpetual to-do list. But is that really accomplishment? Is that what we mean when we say that accomplishment is an intrinsic element of well-being?
Getting things done is important to our well-being; the key is getting the right things done. Setting goals helps organize and focus our energy. Research has shown that when there is a goal in sight, it narrows our choices about what to do, with whom to connect, what to read, what to look at on the Internet, and most importantly, what to ignore. Goals help us decide what we need to give up in order to make time for our dreams. Without goals, our day-to-day actions have little meaning; with them, we have a purpose for getting up each day. In short, goals are the means, not the end. Their purpose is to help us enjoy the journey, to treasure the experience, and to live in the joy and satisfaction of the moment.
How do you tame the hamster wheel and turn it into happiness? Here are a few techniques we recommend based in the science of positive psychology.
- Make time to dream. Give yourself permission to think about what you really want. Imagine yourself in the future, when you have achieved all of your life goals. What will your life be like? Where will you live? Who will be with you? How will you feel? How will you have made a difference? Write about this future in detail in your journal, and repeat the exercise three or four times. You will see that your actions soon begin to line up according to your goals.
- Make sure they are your own goals. Not your boss’s goals, your spouse’s, your colleague’s, or your kid’s. Is it really your goal to have that more impressive job; that suburban McMansion; or the latest and greatest car, computer, phone, or boat? Or are you on the hamster wheel of keeping up with the Joneses? When you look back on your life, will you be happy with how you spent your time?
- Enjoy the struggle. Positive psychology research shows that it’s the process of working toward a goal (rather than actually achieving the goal) that gives the greatest benefit to personal well-being. Take time to enjoy the ride. Once you complete a step toward your goal, congratulate yourself for what you have done to get to that point. Savor the process. Give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved so far. Bask in the knowledge of how much you’ve grown. Tell others about your progress.
Accomplishment can be defined as the process of developing personal goals, struggling toward them, and appreciating our achievements along the way. Accomplishment brings deep meaning to our lives, contributes to our long-term well-being, and helps us avoid the Ebenezer Scrooge syndrome: waking up one day to realize that all of that busywork that filled our lives was in service of the wrong master.
For more on the positive workplace, read the full blog series.