“Reach for your goals!” “Go for it!” “You can do it!” We all know the mantra’s that we tell ourselves over and over again as we work towards a goal- whether it is finishing a paper, a class, graduating, working out, losing weight, buying a car, or getting a new job. The list can be endless. But what happens once we achieve that longed for goal? Then what? Often times, people are left with a sense of emptiness, a lack of purpose or direction. They no longer are working towards reaching that carrot they have been chasing. What happens when you have achieved all your goals? Do you just keep setting new goals? It’s an option. Do you stop trying? Once you graduate, are you done learning? Once you reach your goal weight, are you done eating healthy and exercising? If achieving your goal is your only motivation, what keeps you going once you achieve it?
Underlying and continuing motivation is fueled by our own, individually chosen values. Values intrinsically motivate us to engage in activities that push us towards achieving specific goals and continue long-lasting behavior patterns. Goals, on the other hand, tend to be more short-term motivators. For example, if you have a goal of losing weight to fit into a swimsuit for the summer, you will be motivated to perform the necessary activities to achieve this goal so long as it is relevant. For many, this is until the end of summer or beach season. However, if you have a value of living a fit and healthy lifestyle, your motivation will last much longer than beach season. Theoretically, this value could serve as proper motivation for a lifetime, so long as the value of being fit and healthy is relevant.
While small goals are helpful for short term motivation, it is more helpful to look at what value underlies that specific goal. Use the value as a long-term source of motivation to live the life that is meaningful to you. Engage in the behaviors that consistently produce the outcomes you seek. And, finally, rather than only focusing on the outcome or the goal, focus rather on the journey to reaching that goal. Create the sustaining behavior patterns to ensure that you are always engaging in value-oriented behavior. Become a life-long learner if obtaining knowledge is a value. Perhaps you won’t indefinitely be enrolled in courses, but you can continue your pursuit of knowledge through reading, seminars, traveling the world, or even just talking to a new person with a different perspective. Be creative. Let your values guide you.
Karen Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist