We’re hard wired not to care what’s on the other side of our goals.
I should never have kissed her.
I shouldn’t have got her number. I shouldn’t have asked her out to dinner. I shouldn’t have brought flowers.
And I definitely shouldn’t have put on that firefighter costume.
In hindsight, it was all a mistake. In foresight, it was a mistake too. I knew that it would cause nothing but trouble. But somehow it just seemed like a mistake worth making.
And it taught me a really interesting lesson: sometimes “achievement” is a seductive lie.
It’s like the other day I was talking to a friend of mine. We played soccer together. We were talking about our golden days, and about how he got selected in the Australian Under 17 side to tour Asia.
He was reflecting on how he was never such a talented player. He didn’t work all that hard either.
But he said he wanted that Australian jersey so bad it would keep him up at night.
He would imagine how it would feel to put on that green and gold tracksuit with the kangaroo on it. How it would wear it to the shops and how people would be impressed by it.
“To be honest, that’s what I was focused on. I was focused on selection. On the honour that would come with that. I actually never thought past it – to what it would be like to actually play for Australia.
“I would just go over and over it in my mind. What it would be like to hear my name called out at the end of the state titles. Calling my family back home to let them know I was in. Getting my tracksuit and ticket to the AIS in the mail.
I wanted it so bad I could literally taste it.”
And in the end, at the state titles, which was where much of the selection took place, he just had a blinder of a carnival. Everything fell into place for him. He surprised everyone, including himself.
And he got selected.
The dream came true.
And what was it like to play for Australia? Well, he never went. He did his knee in Canberra and stayed home.
“I wasn’t as disappointed as you’d think. I’d got what I wanted, truth be told. The cosmos had delivered. It had given me everything I had called in. I’d just forgotten to ask for anything beyond the tracksuit!”
Good that he can laugh about it now. Getting old is good like that.
I feel like a see this a bit with people’s success journeys. When you dig into the kinds of things they’re striving for, often it’s the moment of the achievement itself, not the fruits of that achievement.
Take a simple example. Say someone wants a flashy new car. Now, do they really want a shiny merc? Or do they want that moment when their neighbours see their car in the driveway for the first time? Do they want bragging rights to their friends? Do they just want to be able to tell themselves, “It’s ok. Life’s going all right. We’ve got a merc…”
What’s the problem with this?
Well, one, you’ll never be satisfied. If the problem is the stories you’re telling about yourself, those stories will always reassert themselves, no matter how many cars or boats and vintage fighter planes you throw at them.
You’re chasing your tale.
(My entry in International Pun of the Year.)
Two, it’s a total waste of energy. If you want a new story about who you are and how you’re going in the world, just tell the story. You have that power and it is as easy as that.
I’ve covered this stuff before.
But the point I wanted to make today is don’t beat yourself up about it. Recognise that humans are hard-wired to focus on achievement, not the fruits of that achievement.
Our instincts drive us in this way. It’d be too much work and energy if your instincts had to convince you of the benefits associated with every motivation.
For example, our don’t instincts don’t say, “you should eat apples because they’re healthy and nutritious and they will give us the energy we need to sustain our endeavours.”
No. They say, “Get shiny sweet things and put them in your mouth.”
And that is literally where it ends. By design.
In fact, they deliberately create a blind spot around everything else that happens after that. From the instinct’s perspective, it’s just a distraction.
So take my friend with a thing for firemen. I knew that it was all a bad idea. But I just found it really hard to care.
My instincts had me focused on my attraction to her. Nothing else. They made it seem like the whole human story had only existed so that we could be together, and some great cosmic alignment would take place the moment we kissed.
Of course, that was never the case. And after the fact, when I looked to the instincts that had now gotten me into all that trouble, they were nowhere to be found.
You’re on your own now buddy.
Just another one of the joys of being human.
So my advice is this – be aware that we have a tendency to get fixated on the moment of achievement – the moment a goal is realised or a task is completed.
Be aware that while that feeling of achievement is awesome, it’s fleeting, and if your happiness is tied up with achievement, rather than the fruits of achievement, you’re on a treadmill to nowhere.
Take stock of your goals. Do you actually want what comes with them, or do you just want the satisfaction of achievement? Feel it out. What does it feel like once you’ve had that new car for a while?
Do you even care?
If not, your energies are better placed elsewhere (probably on the stories you’re telling.)
And finally, the tram to St Kilda is no place to be caught impersonating a member of the emergency services.
How do you keep yourself focused on the other side of achievement?