NOTE: This is part of a series of personal lessons on life, success, and goal-setting as a way of ending the year on a reflective note. To catch up, you can read lessons below.
Most of my life, I’ve felt like a loser.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’ve just never felt good enough.
When I played soccer as a chubby little ten-year-old, I was too slow to score any goals, so my dad (who was the coach) had me play defense.
That year, I won the “Most Improved Player” award. This, in a way, is a pretty good metaphor for my life: good, but not great. Solid effort, Jeff. Nice try.
In sixth grade, I got my first real taste of greatness by winning the school spelling bee. The winning word was “acquiescence,” and the eighth grader who lost allegedly cried the entire bus ride home.
It was the only time I ever made an eighth grader cry, and to be honest, it felt good. To beat somebody. To win. To not be a loser.
The next year, I didn’t practice at all and lost to a sixth grader. The losing word was “flourishing.”
Most of my life has been like this: one step forward, one step back. Make a little progress, then regress.
Measure the chase
It’s not until recently that I’ve learned why I do this. I set goals, accomplish them, then slowly start to sabotage myself.
Do you know why we humans do this?
Because we don’t believe we deserve success. That can mean whatever you want, but the reason we get a little bit of happiness or money or influence and then squander it is because, deep down inside, we don’t feel worthy of such things.
Now, the reasons we do this are complicated and you should probably talk to a therapist about them (I do), but I want to offer a simple way that you don’t have to feel like a loser.
It’s so easy and yet almost no one does this:
Want to feel healthy? Great. You can set a goal to “lose 10 pounds” or whatever, but don’t fixate on the outcome. Research proves that we humans don’t love accomplishing results as much as we love chasing results.
So what should you do?
Measure the chase, of course.
How you achieve something is vastly more important than whether or not you achieve it.
For example, you can lose 10 pounds by starving yourself for a week, but that will slow your metabolism down and likely cause you to gain more weight in the long run. It’s an unsustainable practice.
The same goes for setting a goal of writing a book. If you sprint through NaNoWriMo and complete your first novel but haven’t developed the daily discipline of working on your writing, it’s unlikely that you will continue being able to write great stuff.
What I’m talking about here is habits, practices, and process.
Celebrate the process
So, what should you do about that weight loss goal? Measure the thing that you’re doing to get healthier. Did you go for a walk today? Eat enough vegetables? Stay under your caloric goal for the day? Then you should feel good about that.
What about that writing goal? Did you write your 500 words today? Great!
Time to celebrate!
After my second book came out, The In-Between, it didn’t do as well as my first two books.
I remember sitting on my back porch, texting a mentor of mine, saying how let down I felt, expecting him to commiserate with me. Here’s what he said:
“There was a time when where you are sitting now seemed out of reach. Rejoice, my friend. Rejoice!”
Look. I don’t know much about anything. I’ve been a loser my whole life, remember? But I do know this:
If you cannot celebrate the process, you won’t be able to enjoy the outcome.
So start measuring the process.