Five Habits of Happy High-Achievers
Posted by Renita on Saturday, February 27, 2010
When Shannon Bahrke won bronze in women’s moguls at the 2010 Winter Olympics, in her excitement she “hugged first-place winner Hannah Kearney so tightly that she almost knocked her U.S. teammate over.” Next to them on the podium, however, Canadian skier Jennifer Heil looked crestfallen after taking silver.
From our vantage point as a spectator, it might be hard to imagine feeling disappointed at “only” winning a silver medal. On the other hand, we can kind of understand how, after years of training and sacrifice, being so close to the gold — and falling seconds short — could feel like failure.
That crucial difference in perspective is why “on average, bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists,” says Victoria Medvec, a psychologist and professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management in Illinois. Research shows a disconnect between performance and satisfaction, she says. “Those who perform objectively better can actually feel worse than those who they outperformed.”
Of course, there are high-performers in all arenas – business, medicine, performing arts – who are never quite satisfied with their impressive achievements. They zone in on the flaws, lament their missteps and don’t really seem to savor and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Makes you wonder, what’s the point of achievement again?
The secret to happy goal attainment comes down to focus. Here are five ways Happy High-Achievers – let’s call them HaHAs – play hard and stay content:
1. HaHAs keep their balance. Come on, there’s no glory in pushing to the edge, sacrificing proper nutrition, sufficient sleep and movie night, if it means you’re going to collapse, be out of commission and have disgruntled friends and family. HaHAs keep an ongoing cost-benefit analysis and remember their core values (that gold medal isn’t going to come visit you in the hospital!) to make sure they don’t sacrifice what’s really important.
2. HaHAs enjoy the process. Yep, that ol’ chestnut. But isn’t most of the time we spend in pursuing a goal considered “process?” To focus on the fleeting moments on the podium (the stage, the finish line) and expect them to feel like sufficient reward for your hard work is a recipe for dissatisfaction. For HaHAs, the purpose of a goal is for what they’ll learn and the joy in striving for it – actually achieving the goal is just icing on the cake.
3. HaHAs pursue excellence, not perfection. Can we just agree already that perfection does not exist? And if it does, it’s subjective and a constantly moving target? HaHAs know this and refuse to hold themselves up to some impossible standard. They don’t compare themselves relentlessly to others or pay attention to the inner critic. Instead, they prefer to focus on the more satisfying challenge of simply doing better than they did the day before.
4. HaHAs focus on what they can control. And they spend minimal time focusing on what they can’t. When results fall short, HaHAs don’t blame the weather, their neighbor’s barking dog or the dry-cleaners. They don’t constantly look in the rear-view mirror and beat themselves up for a result that is past and done. Whatever happens, HaHAs forgive (themselves and others), show gratitude and find a way to reframe the situation so they can feel good and move forward.
5. HaHAs are doin’ it for themselves. That’s because working toward a goal solely to satisfy someone else’s expectations – whether your parents, fans or society – is destined to create a feeling of gnawing emptiness and “is this all there is?” Conversely, no matter how “unimpressive” or inadvisable a choice of action might seem to an outsider (“What do you mean you don’t want the promotion?!”), HaHAs have figured out which accomplishments give them the greatest satisfaction in practice – not just theory – and they stay true to themselves.