In Pursuit of Happiness
When you get up in the morning, you are energetic, cheerful, your face lit up with a beautiful smile and singing your favorite tune, as you jump off the bed.
I have a vision for you… When you get up in the morning, you are energetic, cheerful, your face lit up with a beautiful smile and singing your favorite tune, as you jump off the bed. And as you go through your day, you are radiantly alive and experiencing this refreshing feeling several times through the day !!
On that critical interview day, as I sat before the Professor of Corporate Law, he casually inquired about my life outside work. On hearing about my Karate classes, he couldn’t hide a smile and asked cynically “how will Karate help you with MBA studies and your professional career?” Closing my eyes for few seconds I introspected deeply and then replied, “When you are face to face with the risk of physical injury or even death, the danger of being hit by a hard kick all of a sudden, your mind is at peak concentration, your senses on high alert, willing to take risks, looking out for the split second opportunity and the belief that attack is the best form of defense. These qualities apply in Business too”. Though my words didn’t make much sense to me then, it surely impressed my Professor. I was selected and a month later found myself sitting in the MBA class alongside 90 other lucky students.
Now, tell me honestly, how big an ask could this be? Really? And if your life isn’t like that today, then I humbly request your attention to my words over the next few minutes.
Ask yourself: Would it be fair to say that in some shape or form you are devoting your entire life in pursuit of happiness? Everything you do – your job, family, friends, activities, etc. is a quest for happiness. Now would that be a reasonable assumption?
I want you take few moments, think through carefully and answer the following question;
What do you need to do or, have to get in order to be happy?
- A trophy spouse?
- Vast wealth?
- Maybe a beautifully sculptured body? Or perhaps, generally good health?
Respect and admiration from society?
Next, I want you to consider this statement: “Anything that you can get in life, you can also ‘un-get’ just as quickly, or in some cases even quicker”
Sept. 24, 1988: Ben Johnson became a newly-minted Canadian hero and an internationally-recognized track superstar. He had endorsement deals, admiration from his peers and a promising future. But winning the gold medal at the Seoul Summer Olympics had made him an absolute megastar. But that was on Sept. 24. Just three days later, Johnson was a national disgrace and a symbol of everything that was wrong with track and field. Shockingly and very suddenly, an event that was one of the shining sporting moments for a country of 25 million turned into an embarrassment.
Take the case of Rajat Sharma. This ex McKinsey CEO and once the most influential and powerful financial advisors in the world, took well over two decades to earn that name, power and reputation. And it took just few months to wash away everything that he had built. Or Lance Armstrong – who ruled the world of professional competitive cycling for over a decade. Having retired once in 2005, Armstrong couldn’t resist the temptation to race and joined back the professional circuit to win more accolades between 2010 and 2011. It took mere months to wipe out almost everything he had earned over 14 years. Everything.
Closer to home, look back at your own life and you will be amazed to notice miniature instances of this phenomena occurring on a regular basis. You sweat out for weeks or months preparing for a college exam and just couple of hours of the actual event seals your future. A small accident or a sudden heart attack and the good health and beautifully sculptured, gym toned body is easily reduced to nothing in no time.
The fact of the matter is, it takes years of hard work, meticulous planning and careful execution of a strategy to make it big. And guess how long does it take to watch that wealth, respect or health evaporate? Yes, that’s right. Haven’t we all heard of rags – to – riches – to rags stories? Now, some motivational experts reframe such stories as inspiring metaphors of having a ‘never say die’ attitude. These stories motivate us that a positive mindset helps people to rise again and again from the ashes and win the battle yet again. I personally have no objection to that perspective. Hidden inside every failure is a feedback that can take us to a new height of achievement.
But the fact still remains that “Anything that you can get in life, you can also ‘un-get’ just as quickly or in some cases even quicker”.
So, if whatever you have to get to make you happy, can disappear in no time where does that lead you to? Not in a nice place, right?
Can I ask you to consider a different proposition? There is nothing you have to get, be or do in order to be happy !!What if you were to accept that Happiness is your innate nature? It is hardwired when you were born. Infact, you cannot NOT be happy.
Now, I know that you are laughing and wondering, “if happiness is my innate nature, then how come my life sucks?”, right? The answer to this question is simple: “You have spent your entire life, learning how to be unhappy”. And the way we develop this unique ability to stay unhappy is by buying into a notion of the way the world works. For example; all of us have different notions of how to find a job, how to be successful in our work or relationships, what restaurant to pick to eat that gives us immense pleasure, what to do when we are sick, etc, etc.
Now let me ask you another question here…if you were to recall a list of all the things that you had set out to accomplish 10 years back, where do you think you are today in terms of closing those goals? 30% or 40% or even 60% targets achieved? Even if you have achieved 90% , are you feeling happy? You know the answer don’t you? Here’s an interesting secret. We have managed to achieve an incredible mastery in training our minds to focus on what has not been accomplished and completely ignore what has been achieved. This notion of focusing on the ‘gap’ rather than the road crossed almost always leads to trouble.
The problem is not that we have these notions, but that we don’t even know that we have such notions. The more we invest in these notions, the more we believe and convince ourselves that this is the way the world works. And the structure or process of these notions is that we have to do something to achieve something in order to be something. Now, try this model on for few areas of your life and let me know if this is incorrect or true? You know the answer, don’t you?
All of this, infact, is a variation of the IF – THEN model of behavioral dynamics. IF I achieve this goal THEN I will be really pleased, ELSE I will feel dejected. And if I do manage to achieve that goal then I need to focus on another one, ignoring what has been achieved. Does this sound familiar?
So let me take you through an idea that could change the way you view goals. What if we train our mind to accept that everything we do in our life results in an outcome – some outcome. And I want you to think about this: actions are within our control, however, outcomes are completely out of our control.
For example, how often have we experienced that when we set goals and work towards achieving them, sometimes we achieve some parts of those goals and sometimes we end up achieving exactly opposite of what we had set out to achieve? Nod your head if you recall such experiences, now. Right?
The thing is, we live in a thought paradigm that says “Here I am…and here’s where I want to go…and these are my steps to deliver that!”. “And if I achieve, all is well. But if I don’t I have failed”. WE INVEST OUR TIME AND OTHER RESOURCES IN PURSUING THIS ACHEIVEMENT. Modern psychology defines ‘goal’ as something we set that is measurable, quantifiable at the end of a set period of time. ‘Strategy’ is the list of steps, actions and resources we use to achieve the goal. If the final achievement meets that measurable set parameter then we smile in satisfaction. But here is an inherent problem in this way of thinking: If you have, for example, set a goal to earn $5000 in 3 months and manage to make $4500 at the end of this period that still means you missed your target. This leads to disappointment and negativity. And introspection about what went wrong!
As you set out to execute your strategy, you are constantly welcomed by ‘outcomes’. And an outcome is….well, an Outcome. That’s all. For anything you do, you cannot not have an outcome. The interesting thing about ‘outcomes’ is that for most situations, they are emotionally neutral or at best (or worst, depending on the context) evoke a mild emotion. Failure to hit a goal, on the other hand, is most likely to generate regret, resentment or frustration. Whilst achievement against goals is measured only when that time frame has crossed, resources utilized or results achieved, outcomes happen all the time and offer a constant source of navigation. Most people find viewing outcomes thought provoking and intellectually engaging. They get ideas and insights into their next steps.
How about looking at an alternative mindset? Say we invest our resources on the process instead of the end-achievement? I once had the privilege to work under Sudhir, a tough task master who also happened to be an incredibly brilliant human being fostering a challenging yet positive atmosphere in the entire Sales team. He used to say to all his team mates “In the end, when its over and you look in the mirror, did the person you see there do the best she or he was capable of doing? And if you did the best you are capable of doing, then the result can but only show you a direction where you need to change”. Infact as I think of this guiding philosophy, I can’t stop myself from thinking about two fundamental NLP Presuppositions:
- There is no failure – just feedback. If you treat each setback as a message to chart your course in a new direction, you can only learn to become better.
- People do the best they can in a given situation with the resources available to them at that time. If they fail to any extent, it only means it is time to identify what new resources are needed and pull them out.
And what he said next was even more though-provoking “If you genuinely did the very best you are capable of doing, then I suspect that the result would usually be to your liking”
That, is investment in the process. Now, lets look back at some of those goals we never met and experienced a sense of regret and disappointment. Unknowingly, we usually end up investing in the final Goal and don’t give a dime about the long string of outcomes on the way. Now, before you protest, let me clarify that setting focus on the Goal is great. It gives us a sense of long term direction.
But invest your resources in the process with a child-like curiosity for the outcomes along the journey. The important change now is that you are measuring success in each step of the journey. You cannot not succeed to get an outcome, right? So in the example above, you got an outcome of making $4500 and atleast that seems more motivating than thinking that you missed achieving your goal by $500. And, now you have a new starting point from the last successful step.
The term ‘Last Successful Step’ is quite motivating in itself. Doesn’t it automatically and instinctively open up your mind to a new ‘set-point’ to progress the journey from? Plus, it helps you maintain sight of each successful milestone in the process. Now pick a goal you failed to achieve and scan through all your outcomes until you find the last successful outcome. How does that make you feel about that goal now?
In my next article, I will explain the process of setting up ‘clever’ outcomes that offer a simple, yet, foolproof process to achieve your Goals.
NOTE: All examples as well as scenarios in this article, are one of many possible responses in real life situations and simply meant for illustrating the concept.