How pursuing and achieving goals is destroying your happiness and what to do instead
There are many people that come to me, disappointed and hopeless in terms of their satisfaction with life, besides having achieved so many things.
Nowadays there are a lot of people working hard to achieve their dreams.
They want to make an impact on this world, striving for wealth and following the desire to be able to live on their own terms, by building their businesses or achieving a certain level in their professional career.
They have goals in each and every single area of their lives.
Don’t get me wrong this is fantastic, I do it too. I set goals and plan how to get there.
But, when you operate only on doing mode, achieving, setting again, planning, working really hard, doing, doing, doing, it is inevitable, you burn out. You lose motivation, you procrastinate, you self-sabotage.
Is your happiness dependant on your achievements?
I have to confess, this used to be me.
Anxiety, worries, fear and frustration are some of the feelings that my clients hold (and I used to feel them too) even when everything seems to be going relatively well for them, they feel empty, stressed and not really happy.
Besides having a clear picture of what they want, they are operating in a self-protective manner, due to a lack of confidence or self-belief and basing their happiness only on outcomes and whether they fail or not.
In a stage of burnout, lacking in confidence and doubting themselves, feeling they cannot trust their instinct and finding it hard to face/make important decisions. They look for a solution that helps them to feel not only motivated and energised but also content, secure, soothed and fulfilled.
Coaching is an amazing tool in order for you to take the wheel and drive through a road you built or use as a resource that will take you to your destination, that place where you want to be.
However, it can be dangerous if the only thing you focus on is in achieving your goals.
Seeking the next boost of confidence and happiness, achieving the next objective, is not what coaching is about. The importance resides on the exploration and reflection about the information you have obtained about yourself during the process and what you want to do with it.
So, if you are basing your happiness only on the results of your work, the outcomes of an experience or the by-products of reaching a destination, you will be destroying real happiness and long lasting life satisfaction, and perhaps, even risking your well-being.
In order for you to live in harmony, feel at peace, content at the time that you are feeling motivated and fulfilled, you must be aware of your emotional lifestyle, how your emotion regulation systems work and how to interact with each of them.
Your emotional lifestyle
From evolutionary neuroscience comes a way of understanding the way your emotions work and how they regulate.
The framework I am about to share with you, is the tool that will support you when you are trying to understand and manage your emotions.
The emotion regulation systems is a concept identified by Paul Gilbert, psychologist, that explains that our emotions can be classified into three categories.
Each category has a purpose, a motivation, a specific function.
The Self-Protection System
The Drive System
The Contentment System
Or as Paul Gilbert classifies them The Red, The Blue and The Green System respectively.
The 3 systems explained
The Self-Protection or Red System
This system is prepared to notice when you are in danger and its mission is to protect you and those that care for you, from that threat.
The emotions that resides in this system are unpleasant: Anger, fear, anxiety, disgust.
When you are about to eat something that smells really bad, this system operates activating emotions like disgust. It alerts you to the potential risk you are about to take. That is to say, consuming something that is about to give you a stomachache, make you really ill or even kill you.
This is the famous system that activates the fight or flights response. Connected to your amygdala, in a direct way, it is able to send a torrent of hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) to your body so you respond quickly, with the aim to escape, fight or hide away.
Basically, it keeps you alive.
The problem with this system is that you can get stuck in it. Your brain has been programmed to look out for threats instead of opportunities. It is our default mode from when we were born.
Dealing with threats is the priority and if we are not aware of this modus operands, you may stay in the worry mode, even when you are not facing real danger.
Over the long term this will weaken your immune system and could have an impact on your overall health and well-being.
Why? Because there are a constant torrent of stress hormones being released into your bloodstream.
Everytime you perceive something as a possible threat the system gets activated, you become alert. You can start to worry in an unhelpful way and it could lead to anxiety.
The Drive or the Blue System
This is the one that moves you, the one that motivates you to achieve things in life, the one that gives you a real boost when you achieve your goals.
This system motivates and rewards you with a ton of dopamine when you have set yourself to do or obtain something and you actually make it happen.
Here reside emotions such as desire, joy, pleasure and excitement.
The problem comes when you can’t achieve what you want and the Red or Self-protection System also gets activated, provoking anger or frustration.
So if you base your happiness and life satisfaction exclusively on whether you achieve the objectives you are pursuing or not, you are somehow risking your well-being and setting yourself up for long lasting happiness failure.
Furthemore, when you don’t fail to achieve a specific goal, so you get it, you may perceive a moment of joy, of intense happiness. However, this fades away as the time goes by, relatively quickly.
You set up the next goal, the next big objective, and you work hard to get there, but you forget about enjoying the journey. Desperately, you would be seeking the next hit of dopamine in your system, that one that rewards you when you get what you want.
But, what if you don’t?
Pursuing and achieving goals can become addictive and destroy genuine satisfaction with life, if not balanced with the Green or Contentment System (see below).
You will never be satisfied with what you have already got.
The Contentment or Green System
When this system gets activated you feel safe, you feel satisfied with what you have got, you don’t need anything else, you feel content.
The feelings that you will encounter here are contentment, safeness, fulfilment, peacefulness, kindness, compassion, affection, love, gratitude and appreciation.
While the red system was dominated by stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline) and the blue system by dopamine, the Green system is regulated by hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins, the love hormones.
When oxytocin and endorphins are released into your body you feel a strong sense of well-being, they are actually natural painkillers.
The problem with this system is that if you spend too long here you can start to feel apathetic, unmotivated, lazy.
You feel as if you haven’t got any energy, perhaps nothing really worries you, you start feeling low and this can finally lead to depression.
The need to balance the 3 systems to achieve wellbeing
As you can see, staying in a single system for too long has its own negative consequences but they all, have their upsides.
The red and blue systems are both to do with changing your current situation which you are not satisfied with. You can move from danger to safety and from not having to having. They are connected with your doing mode.
However, the green system is more to do with feeling comfortable and content with what you have already in the present moment. No need to change or strive for anything. It is about experiencing the being, the present moment as it is, no need for more, no need for change.
The 3 systems need to be in constant balance in order for you to feel truly satisfied.
In our modern society, it is highly valued to be constantly in the first two systems, busy, worry, in the to do mode, looking at your next steps, looking out for your next achievement, climbing the ladder.
However, resting, taking time to do nothing and making time for yourself are seen as selfishness, laziness, a waste of time.
“You must be always on the go”, “striving for more”, “dreaming big”, “keeping yourself motivated”.
Well, let me remind you, this is not healthy.
Actually, you achieve much more when you give the green system a chance.
If you feel overwhelmed, stressed, always on the go, worried and burnt out, make sure you do something to turn down the Red and Blue system and turn up the Green system.
What can you do to turn up the Green system and turn down the Red and Blue system a little bit?
There are numerous things you can do in order to activate your contentment (green) system a little bit and turn down the Drive System (blue).
A combination of practices such as mindfulness, self-compassion, kindness, gratefulness, self-care, developing your self awareness and your emotional intelligence will make you feel content, peaceful, safe and fulfilled.
In order to turn down the Self-Protection o Red system you can learn how to deal with worry and develop your confidence so the threats you perceive are balanced and realistic.
Download The Ultimate Guide to a Confident Life and become your most confident self so you start turning down the Self-protection and Drive systems and activating a bit more of the Contentment System.
In conclusion, we have different emotions regulation systems that work for our good, our survival, our actualisation, our feeling of contentment and peace.
However, they all need to be balanced and work in harmony with each other. This way you make sure you don’t stay in a unique system for too long, in order to avoid the downsides.
There are numerous practices you can include in your day to day life in order to keep this balance, and turn up and down the systems you may need the most, depending on your current circumstances.
So, if you are someone who tends to focus on goal after goal, and constantly worrying or stressed by all the work you have to do, all the to dos you have to cross over; make sure you choose one of the previous practices and balance your emotional lifestyle, so you can achieve true contentment, peace and life satisfaction.
Which emotion system do you tend to spend more time on?