People like to achieve their goals. However, we often move quickly on from a goal which has been attained, without appreciating what has been achieved. We can increase our wellbeing by attending to and savouring our moments of achievement, but also from reflecting on our attempts to complete a task and the positive sense of accomplishment that is gained as we increase in competence. That is, it can be satisfying to see our skills improving through practice, as much as it is to reach a goal, if we just pay attention to the process.
Accomplishment is both subjective and objective. It is defined by the goals you care about, and the skill level you are currently operating on – you don’t have to be performing at a professional standard. The very first time you comfortably deadlift 20kg at the gym, or write your own website, is incredibly rewarding, even though top weightlifters can deadlift over 300kg, and professional websites may have more functionality. But it is also objective – it seems we get a stronger sense of satisfaction from accomplishing goals that others also believe are worthwhile, which is why we cheer when Olympians break speed records, but feel a bit bemused by the man who holds the record for “most spoons balanced on a human body”.
So how can we bring more accomplishment, and more appreciation of our achievements, into our lives? On a trivial level, this is why people write lists – the sense of completion you get when crossing out or ticking an item off the list is very satisfying (which I why I start all my lists with the task “Write a list for today” – instant success!).
But at a deeper level, we get the most impact from accomplishing tasks we care deeply about, tasks that are in line with our values. So depending on their values, one lawyer could gain more satisfaction from winning a pro bono case for a refugee client (if “justice” is a top value for him), while another lawyer could gain more satisfaction from winning a case which resulted in a large fee (if “provide for my family” is a top value for her). Both are tangible, significant achievements but each is experienced differently by the winner depending on their values. With that in mind, here are several tips for boosting your sense of accomplishment.
Set goals that are linked to your values. This requires some work in the planning stage to be clear on what your values are. Reflect on the things you care about, the things that motivate you to action, and distil 5-8 guiding values in your life. Then, looking at the goals you may have, link them to your guiding values. For example, you might be aiming to get a promotion at work. Is that because you have a value of “excellence in all things”, because you want to financially support your family, or because you want to be in a position to change things? If you want to get healthier, is it because you want to look fitter or because you want to be around to see your grandchildren? If you want to start a business, is it to have the freedom to be your own boss, or the flexibility to work around family schedules, or to improve people’s lives by providing your product? Whatever the goal, be clear about how it links to your values – every minor win in this field will be so much more meaningful when it’s linked to the things that you think make life worthwhile.
Share your goals and your successes – particularly in Australian culture, we have a strong bias against self-promotion, or “blowing your own trumpet”. However, there’s a big difference between being a braggart and sharing your wins with a trusted circle of friends. Whether it’s a parent, a sibling, a spouse or a best friend, when the people who love you know what you are trying to accomplish, it can help you push further towards achieving your goals. And then when you achieve something you care about, you’ll get an extra boost from hearing them say “Well done! I know how important that was to you!”.
Savour your successes – when you have completed a task, notice it! It’s very easy to just move on the next task to attempt. However, if you reflect on the completed task, and recall the work you put in to achieving it, you will gain a greater sense of accomplishment and a stronger appreciation for yourself as the one who accomplished the goal.
Show Gratitude – but this time communicate it! Rather than keeping your appreciation for others private, find a way to communicate your thankfulness for the person’s actions, and how they contributed to your accomplishment. Whether it was their encouragement, their practical support, or their help at a critical moment, taking time to formally recognise how others contributed to your accomplishment deepens and strengthens your appreciation of your own achievement, as well as building stronger relationships.
Humans are wired to get a positive feeling from accomplishing valued tasks, but you can expand on and improve the wellbeing benefit you receive from your accomplishments by using these tips in your day to day life.
Can’t seem to appreciate your accomplishments, or not even sure what they are? A psychologist can help connect you with goals that you care about, and support you to achieve and appreciate them!