"Once I Reach My Goal, I'll Be Happy". A Harmful Thought Cycle

We've all fallen into the trap of feeling like we'll only really feel better when we reach that long-term goal of ours. However, this is a damaging kind of thought cycle.
"Once I Reach My Goal, I'll Be Happy".  A Harmful Thought Cycle

Last update: 22 January, 2022

You might think of your long-term aspirations as being at the end of a long, flat road. However, as a matter of fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, what faces you is more like a mountain range, with many slopes and descents, one after another. Furthermore, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of, having achieved the arduous task of climbing one hill, you don’t feel any sense of satisfaction. In fact, you simply tell yourself “Once I reach my goal then I’ll really be happy….”. However, this is a harmful thought cycle.

With this strategy, your mind is trying to alleviate those heavy and pressing feelings that come from the effort you’ve made in overcoming your difficulties.  In effect, it’s reminding you that there’s a prize at the end, either in the form of a break or a reward.

Therefore, you endure the discomfort and continue to struggle on. However, what happens when this cycle never ends?  As a matter of fact, what often happens is that your final goal is still far away, yet you find it impossible to stop and rest or to enjoy your small achievements.

The harmful thought cycle

If you have long-term goals, you may well experience this kind of harmful thought cycle. It means you only feel relief and triumph when you imagine yourself reaching your ultimate goal. However, what happens along the way?

As we mentioned earlier, on the way to that distant goal, you’ll experience several small victories along the way. However, if you don’t stop exclusively focussing all your attention on your ultimate aim, you won’t notice these small achievements. Hence, you’ll find no satisfaction in them.

T his process leads to frustration and chronic stress. Furthermore, you don’t successfully prioritize the resources you allocate to each of your objectives. For example, you might tell yourself you’ll only feel better when you…..

  • Find a partner.
  • Have a child.
  • Finish your exams.
  • Go on vacation.

However, what happens when that future never comes? Or, when it does, you’ve already moved on to your next goal? In fact, the stress continues and you may have the feeling that your life seems to be neither improving nor progressing. Therefore, here are some ideas that can help you get out of this spiral.

Woman thinking

How to break the harmful thought cycle

If you don’t find relief in your own achievements, you may abandon your goals. In addition, you might suffer from stress or even anxiety disorders or depression. Nevertheless, there are some things you can do to stop yourself from reaching these extremes.

Enjoy your little achievements

When it comes to big aspirations, it pays to enjoy what you achieve along the way. In this way, you’ll be able to take small mental breaks. This means you enjoy the feeling of completing a certain task without diverting your attention away from your final goal.

These small triumphs in your mind not only help you reaffirm your ability to achieve but also make you try harder. This process also combats burnout syndrome and self-esteem problems derived from fatigue.

Practice introspection

Often, when you’re determined to achieve a certain goal, you lose your perspective. In fact, you develop tunnel vision. This means you focus only on your goal. In addition, you have a tendency to compare yourself with others. This only leads to frustration and a sense of failure.

You need to stop for a moment and think. Ask yourself, what stories is your mind generating about yourself and others? Are they helping you move forward or are they ultimately a hindrance? Is this the only path you can take? You mustn’t lose sight of where you are and where you are going.

Enjoy the journey

The effort of reaching your goal usually brings you satisfaction. However,  you should also think about what you’ve achieved along the way. For example, say you’ve been learning the guitar. You may not end up being the best guitarist in the world, but take a moment to think about how much you’ve improved. See how fast your fingers now move across the frets and strings and think about how your dexterity has improved since you started learning.

As a matter of fact, watching yourself as you overcome difficulties, improve, and learn can be as positive as reaching your goal. In addition, it acts as a protective factor in the event that you can’t get to where you want to be.

Woman walking

Don’t become obsessive

Surpassing yourself is usually helpful. However, you must be careful, because you could find yourself in a state of constant tension fueled by the aspiration to never stop growing, improving, learning, or performing.

On the other hand, identifying that there’s room for you to improve in a certain area doesn’t mean that you have to start immediately. In fact, it’s far better to integrate it into an overall set of priorities.

For example, think of someone overcoming an addiction. Would you tell them that it’s their fault that they relapsed when a loved one of theirs died? Would that help them get back to rehab? Probably not. Therefore, if you get stuck at some point, remember that the important thing is to keep trying and that you’re no worse person for that.

Focus your efforts on the crucial

From time to time it’s a good idea to stop and think about all the aspects of your journey toward your goal. Ask yourself what’s holding you back. How much time do you spend with your loved ones or doing your favorite activities? Where’s your frustration coming from? Once you’ve answered these questions and you have everything in perspective, you can allocate your mental and physical resources to the most relevant areas.

Finally, remember that everyone is susceptible to falling into these thought cycles. Indeed, we live in a society where people are measured by their achievements and their productivity. Therefore, we have a tendency to often feel extremely anxious when we feel we’re not using every possible moment to produce and achieve. This means we focus excessively on our long-term goals, rather than enjoying the short-term ones we achieve along the way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rovella, A., & Sans, M. (2005). Predictores de éxito académico en estudiantes universitarios. Revista Electrónica de Psicología Política3(11).
  • Saborío Morales, L., & Hidalgo Murillo, L. F. (2015). Síndrome de burnout. Medicina Legal de Costa Rica32(1), 119-124.
  • Padrón López, G. A., & Sánchez de Gallardo, M. (2010). Efecto de la motivación al logro y la inteligencia emocional en el Crecimiento Psicológico. Revista Venezolana de Gerencia15(49), 141-158.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.