It's 2016, so maybe you’ve already set your goals for the upcoming year, or maybe you’ve decided you don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Either way, it boggles the mind to think of how many of us, whether we set out with good intentions or no intentions at all, end up in the same place year after year. What’s up with that? Could our constant goal focus be undermining our abilities to achieve what we set out to accomplish?

As it turns out, it very well may be our continued focus on the end goal that contributes to us failing to achieve what we set out to do. It's been studied and shown that the person who is immersed in the experience of what they are doing versus the person who is focused on achieving the end goal and receiving the benefit of the experience is more likely to actually attain their goal and enjoy themselves more in the process, without continued hyper-focus on the goal.

A research study done by a pair of scientists from University of Chicago and the Korea Business School showed that the more we think about our goals and the desired final outcome or long-term benefit, the more we undermine ourselves in achieving the intended goal.

The scientists created four studies: exercising on a treadmill (Study 1), creating origami (Study 2), dental flossing (Study 3) and practicing yoga (Study 4). They documented the impact of how focusing on the goal or long-term benefits of the activity inversely affected the person's motivation to pursue the activity and complete the goal.

They found out when it comes to exercising, health-benefiting activities or creative pursuits the more we stay focused on the desired outcome (or the long-term benefit of the activity) the greater we lessen our own enjoyment of the activity, which is a key factor in attaining our desired objective. What does this experience lead to? Quitting before you’ve given yourself the chance to see the long-term benefits of your activity, and sucking the enjoyment out of doing the thing you need to do in order to reach or achieve the long-term desired benefits.

If you’re running on the treadmill to lose weight and that’s your sole focus, you are less likely to run as long or as far as the person next you on the treadmill that is just thinking about the experience of running. In fact, the study participants showed the goal-focused person ran on average only 34 minutes versus 43 minutes for the experience-focused person. 

This gives new fervor to the trite but apparently true statements about enjoying the journey and the process and not the destination.

"Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” - Greg Anderson

When it came to taking an origami class to “increase your hand eye-coordination” the long-term benefit focused group enjoyed their class less, were far less likely to take another class and were not interested in buying their own origami set to create more at home.

Furthermore the last study the scientists created involved observing yoga students and their stick-to-it-ness and enthusiasm to reap the long-term benefits of practicing yoga regularly. This study was different than the others in that it showed that you can be negatively impacted (without even knowing it) by outside influences suggesting that you should do yoga for the long-term benefits.

They found that in "accidentally observing” a magazine cover that spoke about the long term benefits of yoga the student then enjoyed their yoga class less, and subsequently expressed less commitment to coming to future classes.

"This last study suggests that, once our projects are underway, not only should we beware choosing to stay too focused on our goals, we must also guard against the detrimental effect of outside reminders. So, rip down those wall posters of slender models; ignore the latest Pulitzer long list; hide the photos of Provence. That way you’re more likely to lose weight, write a bestseller, and master your French. Revel in the process and you’re more likely to make it to the finishing line.” - Christian Jarrett, "How Goals & Good Intentions Can Hold Us Back"

It appears that when you engage with an activity just for the sake of experiencing it, the results are that you enjoy the activity far more and are far more likely to engage in the activity again and again. Maybe you could even become a master teacher or expert athlete, but that’s not the point. If your focus is to become a pro-golfer, a marathon winning junkie, a star studded recording artist or a cupcake baking queen, you’re less likely to actually get there. Most virtuosos have attained their level of expert authority out of the sheer obsessed enthusiasm they experience in engaging repeatedly in their area of expertise.

What does that mean for us regular Joe’s who are trying to lose a few pounds, write that book, finish that abandoned project in the garage or learn to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix? You’ll be happier, enjoy yourself more, and are far more likely to achieve your goal if you live in the moment of the experience.


Chloë Rain is The Human Experience Artist, CEO & Founder of Explore Deeply™. To read more about how turning left instead of right can change everything, including how just being nice can get you far in life and in bed, and what to do when heart break doesn’t kill you, go to where Chloë shares stories on the search to find true love, life purpose, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. To read the original post about living in Paris and having a love affair go here. For more inspiration and to like Explore Deeply, go here.

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