My friend and I went on a strenuous hike some months back. It was an all-day, exhaustive, marathon type of ordeal. We had no illusions about it though.
We knew it would be tough.
Furthermore, we knew that once we got to the top of the mountain, there would be no ceremony. There would be no congratulatory banner, no party. On top of that, the view from the peak was expected to be lackluster at best.
We knew, before even starting, that the journey was the reward itself.
The pain of the climb, the pride of completing something challenging, each step followed by another, that was our reward. We climbed that mountain expecting no applause. Instead, the act itself served as victory.
Each crunch of the ground beneath our feet, our tired, worn feet, declared triumph.
We hiked not for the accolade – though I did receive praise from close friends and family after the fact – but for the pursuit of something greater. Of meaning, purpose, fulfillment.
Why do we celebrate things we dislike?
Take yourself back to elementary school for a moment.
You just got a perfect score on a test. Upon arriving home, you show the results to your parents who then insist on celebrating your brilliance. Soon you find yourself at a local restaurant, ordering whatever you want.
You are the guest of honor.
All the while, you have a feeling of dread in the back of your mind. A despair knowing that you have another test in that same subject to prepare for, a subject that you hate. A subject that everyone assumes you will continue to thrive in.
Eventually, urged by those close to you, you attend a college in that field. A field you still hate. And so the cycle continues; spend 98% of your time doing something you despise so that you can eat cake and be celebrated the other 2%.
The model of discontent
In school, particularly pre-collegiate, you don’t have a choice as to the curriculum forced upon you. It’s all required and “if you want to be someone when you grow up,” you need to master the material.
Else you be a burden to society.
So a model forms where you do things you hate, expecting a reward to make your suffering worth it. As you get older, you assume that’s the model for all endeavors. Do something you dislike, get rewarded with an hour of food and merriment.
Then return to the slog and do it all again.
The reason for goals
Here’s the thing though – you can stop operating from that model, especially when it comes to your goals. You may think that goal setting is all about:
- Or making more money
But it’s not. Instead, it’s about fulfillment. It’s about creating a life of meaning for yourself. One of purpose.
And you can’t get that by hating how you spend 98% of your time.
Are you working on the wrong goal?
With your goals, there is no reward at the end of a miserable tunnel. That’s because the goal itself is the reward. Or at least, it should be.
If it doesn’t feel like that to you, you’re working on the wrong goal.
Each of your goals should add fulfillment to your life. That doesn’t mean happiness nor unhappiness. You still have ups and downs. What it means is that there’s a throughline of meaning. A reason for all that you do. And that reason is the reward.
Here’s an example:
One of my goals is to read two books a month. Something I do because I love it. Not because I want to brag about how much I read. Not because I hate reading but think it will help me make more money. No, none of that.
I read because of the fulfillment it adds to my life.
The journey is the reward
Each book I read is the reward itself. Each new thing I learn fills me with joy. I pursue that goal because of what it adds to my life. Not for the hope of an eventual payout; I receive my payout with each page.
I climbed the mountain not for the view from the top, but for the love of something challenging. To push myself to new heights (literally). With each goal I set, fulfillment sits at the root of it. I have no expectation of a reward or celebration.
Instead, the goal itself, the journey, is the reward.
- I read two books a month because I love to read,
- Go on dates with my wife once a month because I love to spend time with her,
- Go to the beach twice a month because I love the beach.
It’s ok to celebrate (but be careful)
How do you reward yourself for achieving a goal? You don’t. And if you feel the need to, you’re working on the wrong goal. Instead, the goal itself should be the reward.
The thing you pursue is that which will give you meaning, purpose, fulfillment.
That’s not to say you can’t revel in your accomplishments – I sat at the top of the mountain for some time considering the massive feat attained. With reading, I smiled to myself when I realized how much I read in 2020.
But that shouldn’t be your sole reason for the pursuit.
The love of it
Be proud of yourself when you overcome an obstacle or push through a challenge. Let that motivate you to keep going. But don’t let that be your only cause for doing something. Instead, let fulfillment be your guide.
Here’s another example:
One of my goals is to publish one new article each day, five days a week. I’ve been doing it for a number of months now. At the end of each month, I don’t stress or panic that I need to keep writing. In fact, I think about the month-end only in so much as I count up how much I wrote.
Then, I sit back down and write some more.
I get to write. It is fulfilling.
Moving forward with your reward
If you find yourself asking how to best reward yourself for achieving some goal, you are likely working on the wrong one.
The goals you pursue should be fulfillment-creating, not dread-inducing. There should be no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, there should be no tunnel at all. Again, that’s not to say you won’t face hardship or difficulty.
Because you will.
But through it all will be meaning. There will be a love for the thing you do. Your legs may tire, your stomach may growl, but with each foot up the mountain, you will smile to yourself.