What most people get wrong about self-improvement

It’s not all about meeting goals.

Most self-help advice is focused on meeting goals.

We want Y. The perfect beach body. A big promotion. A job we love. So we do X in hopes of obtaining it. We join the gym. We enroll in the class. We buy the 3-step program. A lot of people have made an awful lot of money approaching self-help in this way, and millions more have paid them to do it.

But what if we’ve got it backwards?

What if we spend so much time focused on the perceived rewards of our actions that we stop doing the things we love for their own sake? What if the secret to a rich, purposeful life is to remember that life isn’t experienced as goals and milestones but as moments, specifically, this moment right now?

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having goals for your life. If you like goals, use them. But I’ve found that underneath so many of our so-called self-improvement goals lurks a seductive promise, one that’s not entirely fair.

The promise is: Meet this goal, and you will be happy. Meet this goal, and you will be worthy. Meet this goal, and you will be enough.

But it never works that way, does it? If I lose 20 pounds, I still want to lose 5 more. If I get a big raise and a promotion, I gaze ever-upward at peers who still seem more successful than me. As soon as I get the thing I told myself would make me happy, I find that I want something new.

They call this the hedonic treadmill, and there’s only one way off. It’s to recognize that the process — not the goal — is the reward.

The process is the reward. In fact, the process is all there is.

When we strive toward our goals, we have no guarantee that we’ll meet them. Life offers no guarantees at all, for anything. Yet far too often, we treat our actions as mere means toward an imagined end, a fantasy world where all our goals have been achieved and we are finally — finally! — good enough to be happy.

And yet the joy and worthiness and enoughness we seek are not out there in that fantasy world. They are right here. They are only right here.

We will not find joy in achieving a perfect beach body but in feeling the movement and vitality of the body we have. We will not find purpose in a future promotion but in the opportunities we have to serve and do good work where we are. And we do not need to earn more money or love our jobs or lose 20 pounds to be worthy of love and acceptance. We are worthy right now, all of us.

So here’s a little challenge for the coming week: As you go about your life — career, friends, family, chores, all of it — stay present to the process. Find joy in the process. Let it be its own reward.

And if you do this, I promise you, joy will begin to find you, too.

P.S. If you aren’t sure how to start, check out The Purpose Map for more guidance on how to love the life you have.

I’m a career and leadership coach. I ask big questions about what it means to work and lead effectively in the 21st-century economy. Learn more at robincangie.me, or sign up below to get new articles as they’re published…