Your constant goal focus may be undermining your ability to achieve what it is you set out to accomplish in the first place.
The year is coming to a close, maybe you’ve set your goals for the upcoming year, or maybe you’ve decided you don’t believe in New Year's resolutions.
Either way, it boggles the mind to think of how many of us, whether we set out with good intentions or no intentions at all, end up in the same place year after year. What’s up with that?
The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines intention as "the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose” and a goal as "something that you are trying to do or achieve”. You would think that a person motivated enough to set a goal and stay focused on that intention would be the person who would achieve what they set out time and and time. But that doesn’t seem to be the experience for most of us.
As it turns out, it may be our continued focus on the end goal that contributes to us failing to achieve what we set out to do in the first place!
It's been studied and shown that the person who is immersed in the experience of what they are doing versus the person who is focused on achieving the end goal and receiving the benefit of the experience, is more likely to actually attain their goal and enjoy themselves more in the process, without continued focus on the goal.
A research study done by a pair of scientists from University of Chicago and the Korea Business School showed the more we think about our goals and the desired final outcome or long-term benefit the more we undermine ourselves in achieving the intended goal.
The scientists created 4 studies: exercising on a treadmill (Study 1) creating origami (Study 2) to dental flossing (Study 3) and practicing yoga (Study 4). They documented the impact of how focusing on the goal or long-term benefits of the activity inversely affected the person's motivation to pursue the activity and complete the goal.
They found out, when it comes to exercising, health benefiting activities, or creative pursuits the more we stay focused on the desired outcome (or the long-term benefit of the activity) the greater we lessen our own enjoyment of the activity, which is a key factor in attaining our desired objective. What does this experience lead to? Quitting before you’ve given yourself the chance to see the long-term benefits of your activity, and sucking the enjoyment out of doing the thing you need to do in order to reach or achieve the long term desired benefits.
If you’re running on the treadmill to lose weight and that’s your focus you are less likely to run as long or as far as the person next you on the treadmill that is just thinking about the experience of running. In fact, the studied showed the goal focused person ran on average only 34 minutes versus 43 minutes for the experience focused person. Whoa!
This gives new fervor to the trite but apparently true statements about enjoying the journey and the process and not the destination.
When it came to taking an origami class to “increase your hand eye-coordination” the long-term benefit focused group enjoyed their class less, were far less likely to take another class, and were not interested in buying their own origami set to create more at home.
Furthermore the last study the scientists created involved observing yoga students and their stick-to-it-ness and enthusiasm to reap the long-term benefits of practicing yoga regularly. This study was different than the others, in that it showed that you can be negatively impacted, without even knowing it, by outside influences suggesting that you should do yoga for the long term benefits.
They found that in "accidentally observing” a magazine cover that spoke about the long term benefits of yoga the student then enjoyed their yoga class less, and subsequently expressed less commitment to come to future classes!
"This last study suggests that, once our projects are underway, not only should we beware choosing to stay too focused on our goals, we must also guard against the detrimental effect of outside reminders. So, rip down those wall posters of slender models; ignore the latest Pulitzer long list; hide the photos of Provence. That way you’re more likely to lose weight, write a bestseller, and master your French….. ” - Christian Jarrett (original article: How Goals and Good Intentions Can Hold Us Back)
"Revel in the process and you’re more likely to make it to the finishing line."
It appears that when you engage with an activity just for the sake of experiencing it, the results are that you enjoy the activity far more, and are far more likely to engage in the activity again and again. Maybe even become a master teacher or expert athlete, but that’s not the point! Because if your focus is to become a pro-golfer, a marathon winning junkie, a star studded recording artist, or a cup cake baking queen you’re less likely to actually achieve your intention. Most virtuosos have attained their level of expert authority out of the sheer obsessed enthusiasm they experience in engaging repeatedly in their area of expertise.
What does that mean for us regular Joe’s who are trying to lose a few pounds, write that book, finish that abandoned project in the garage, or learn to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix? You’ll be happier, enjoy yourself more, and are far more likely to achieve said goal if you drop your focused intention and live in the moment of the experience you are engaging in.
Each month, each year, we hope will be better than before, and we continuously set new bars for ourselves and raise our expectations of our experiences. Each year we begin with fresh hope as we start the new year reinvigorated in our pledge to make a change in our lives. But then as the months go by its difficult to hold the vision and maintain the energy to achieve that goal… and that’s Ok.
The best focus we can keep to really create change, feel different, and finish that project is to be intent on the joy of the experience you are having in each moment of doing and being. Fuse this attitude to the core of everything we do, or set out to do, and we are far more likely to achieve our life goals and experience more enjoyment in our daily lives.
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