“I’ll be happy when I fit into my old Levi’s.”

(They really did make your butt look good.)

Have you ever said something like that?

Or how about:

“I’ll be happy when I earn a six-figure income.”

“I’ll be happy when my kid gets into a good college.”

“I’ll be happy when I meet my person.”

Truth is, most of us have a belief like these floating around in our psyche.

If you’re a coach, you’ve probably seen this too:

Clients who believe they’ll only be happy when they reach a certain weight, body fat percentage, or athletic achievement.

“Enjoy the journey? Pfft. It’s all about the destination,” they say.

Of course, some eagerness to cross the finish line is normal, and totally okay.

And hey, having goals is awesome. 

Goals give you a sense of purpose and direction, and encourage you to grow beyond your previous capacities into a wiser, better version of yourself.  Plus, research shows that goal-setting is a sign of confidence, commitment, autonomy, and motivation.1,2

The problem is, some people perpetually delay their happiness thinking a better life is always just on the horizon.

But in this article, we’ll discuss this counterintuitive fact:

Reaching a goal won’t always make you happy.

In fact, focusing too much on the outcome of your goals can make you miss the potential you have for happiness RIGHT NOW.

If you think that might be you (or a client), check out the quick three-step process below.

This quick exercise will benefit anyone who feels:

Like their life is on hold until they’ve reached their goalLike their goal is making them miserableWorried their goal may not be sustainable, or even possible

Sound familiar? Read on.

Enjoy your goals (and life) more, in 3 steps.

These steps are a mix of “thinky” work—to bring awareness to your beliefs and behaviors—and “doing” work. (Tip: It’s the doing that will actually change those limiting beliefs and behaviors.)

Thinky-brain and doing-body, activate!

Step 1: Find out what your “I’ll be happy when…” beliefs are.

Grab a scrap of paper and brainstorm all your “I’ll be happy when…” beliefs.

You might have many.

For example:

“I’ll be happy when…

… I have visible abs.”… I move into a bigger house.”… I finish top five in my next triathlon.”

Anything goes.

Once you’ve done a proper brain dump, pick one from the list to focus on—preferably the one that feels most important and urgent.

(If you’re enjoying this article and want more helpful nutrition, health, and coaching advice—delivered straight to your inbox—sign up for our FREE weekly newsletter, The Smartest Coach in the Room.)

Step 2: Uncover how you’ve been holding yourself back.

Now it’s time to do a little digging.

Consider:

What are all the things you’re waiting to do or feel until you achieve your goal?

These aren’t only the things you’re excited for, but ones you’re not “allowing” yourself to have just yet.

For example: “Once I’m 20 pounds lighter, I’ll…

… let myself wear the clothes I like.”… start dating again.”

Or: “Once I’m making six figures, I’ll…

… feel like a success.”… start taking weekends off.”

Or: “Once I meet my soulmate, I’ll…

… finally feel confident.”… go on a Mediterranean cruise.”

Chances are, you’ll come up with a range of things—some trivial and some very meaningful—that you’re not allowing yourself to experience. Likely because of a belief you don’t deserve to do or feel those things until you’re “better.”

Well, we’ve got a surprise for you…

Step 3: Stop waiting, and live.

Once you realize you’ve been holding yourself back from feeling good about yourself, and doing all these cool, meaningful things, it may explain why you’ve been so impatient to just get there already.

It may also explain why you perhaps haven’t been enjoying the process of getting to your goal.

Somewhere inside, there’s a part of you that believes your life can’t really start until you achieve your goal. And that you’re not “supposed” to have good things happen to you until you’re leaner, faster, stronger, or more successful.

This might be an uncomfortable realization. Uncovering that belief might make you feel sad, relieved, angry, or any combination of emotions.

You may want to take some time to unpack those feelings. However, nothing creates significant change more than action.

So, pick the easiest, lowest-hanging next tangible step to start living and feeling the way you want.

For example:

Create a dating profile, using pictures of what you look like right now.Buy a pair of shorts, a muscle tank, a sundress, or whatever item of clothing you’ve been waiting to wear—in your size—and wear it proudlyConsider how you’re already successful: Feel excited to show up to work? That’s success!Stand tall, and say nice things to yourself about your worthiness as a person.Book a solo fun weekend trip for yourself. (It’s not a Mediterranean cruise, but it’s a start.)

Bottom line: Allow yourself to feel and do the things you would if you’d achieved your goal, even if you haven’t achieved it yet.

This might feel uncomfortable. But with some practice, you’ll discover…

Happiness isn’t the effect of achieving goals. It’s the cause.

Once you stop holding yourself back, you might find your goal becomes less important. (Maybe your happiness doesn’t hinge on fitting into those jeans, after all.)

Or perhaps the goal is still important, but you enjoy the steps you need to take to get there more now that you’re no longer putting your life on hold.

Either way, you’ll likely find that whether or not you’ve achieved your goal, you’re starting to behave, live, and feel like the kind of person who would achieve it.

Because even though accomplishing a goal feels good, people usually don’t want the outcome of the goal so much as they want to become the kind of person who gets that outcome.

You’re not just able to bench X weight. You’re a fit person.

Your kid didn’t just make it into an Ivy League. You’re a good parent.

You don’t just make six figures. You’re a smart and capable professional.

You didn’t just win the race. You’re a winner.

This is the secret to why the process above works. Because whether or not you’ve made it to your own personal finish line, your identity starts to shift towards the kind of person you’ve always wanted to be.

Why?

You’re doing the things that kind of person would do.

The best part?

You’re not waiting anymore.

You’re just living.

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References

Click here to view the information sources referenced in this article.

1. Eckhoff DO, Weiss J. Goal setting: A concept analysis. Nurs Forum. 2020 Apr;55(2):275–81.

2. Locke EA, Latham GP. New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2006 Oct 1;15(5):265–8.

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