With the year coming to an end it is the time for reflection and a look on what was. If you have set yourself year-long, big and challenging goals, December is most likely also the month where you reach some of them. While we talk a lot about how to set goals and how to reach them, we talk less often about what to do when we’ve actually reached them.
Why is this important? If you are someone that challenges and constantly works hard to improve oneself, chances are you’ve felt post-achievement depression before. This is the hole that people often fall in after accomplishing a big goal or completing a project. You put in all this work and all this determination only to feel somewhat underwhelmed, unfulfilled and burnt out in the end.
Feeling this way is preventable. There are three things everyone can do to prevent post-achievement depression.
Be sure to enjoy the process
Post-achievement depression is especially nasty if you expected to draw all the enjoyment and the feeling of satisfaction from standing on the summit. Don’t get me wrong, taking that last step towards the incredible view, hitting the last key to look on the final piece is a great thing to strive towards. The feeling is amazing, but also fleeting. Compared to all the work that went into this moment it is easy to feel underwhelmed looking back. However, if you already got lots of enjoyment out of the climbing or writing part of the work, then there is also a journey to look fondly upon.
James Clear wrote in Atomic Habits about the types of goals one can set. There are outcome goals that are defined by the final outcome and completely ignore the steps that gets you there. The other type of goals are focused much more on the process needed to get you to the desired outcome. Both types are important. In order to experience both the enjoyment during the process as well as when reaching the final goal, one should define process goals that can reached consistently across the journey. Doing so will not only make the process more enjoyable but also lessen post-achievement depression because you have more overall enjoyment to draw from.
Know what to do next
One big part of post-achievement depression comes from the sudden lack of purpose. After you’ve spent considerable time and resources on a goal it is only natural to feel a bit lost after it is gone. You need something to fill this hole in your life (as corny as this sounds). And it better not be Doritos or re-watching all ten seasons of Friends on Netflix.
Instead, have the next cool thing lined up. The next writing project or the next summit to climb. Ideally you already know what is next before you’ve reached your goal. That way you never feel the lack of purpose. Even in case you don’t know what your next goal is yet, make sure to take the time after the project to find it. Finding your next thing is already a purposeful activity that gets you on the right track. Either way, know what is next for you before you complete your project.
Once you achieved your goals you should celebrate. This might sound obvious to you but I’m pretty terrible at this. I usually have a list with projects I want to ship and just line them up one after the other. This can work for a long time if you have process goals that motivate you along the way, however, it can also slowly but surely burn you out.
It is also a sure way to under appreciate your achievements. Imagine reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro and basically without stopping, without enjoying the view and reminiscing on your feat, going back down and planning your next climb in Nepal. This is what a lot of us do every time. Sure, we might grab a drink with some friends, toast each other and even have a fun night out but is this an appropriate celebration for what we achieved? Sometimes it might be but definitely not for big goals that occupied us throughout the whole year.
Celebrating in accordance with the extent of the achievement is huge. It is also highly individual. I might go on a trip to a city I have never been in or take a wellness weekend, for you it might be different. Plan something great to celebrate your achievement in advance. In any case, you’ve reached your goal and this is incredible! Treat yourself accordingly, celebrate! Then get back to work and enjoy the next journey.