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Is Working Toward a Goal More Satisfying Than Achieving It?


“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.” — James Dean

Several years ago I attended a yoga workshop where the instructor talked about how working toward the goal is often more pleasurable than actually achieving it. Once you’ve finally mastered the seemingly unattainable pose (or whatever goal you’re working toward), your first emotion is happiness at your accomplishment, but then, there’s that small feeling of disappointment that you no longer have this goal you’re working toward. Sure you can still do the pose — and in fact will be much more confident in doing it after you’ve accomplished it — but once the pursuit is over, the only way to get that feeling back is by finding another pose/goal to work toward.

That’s what makes the goal of doing a handstand so unique. There’s never an end. At least not for me. I suppose someone else might be content knowing they kicked up for a second, and then call it a day, but for me, handstanding is an addiction that keeps me wanting more. And there is more — holding a handstand longer, working on a press, or tuck, moving my legs around intentionally while they’re in the air, or even mastering a one handed handstand (I don’t really see that in my future, but it’s kinda fun knowing it’s out there).

Since I never played sports as a kid or had a physical activity I excelled at, I’d never experienced this feeling — until I started working on handstands. Not that there haven’t been personally satisfying moments in other aspects of my life. Getting an A on a ridiculously long research paper that I stayed up late countless nights to finish was a rewarding accomplishment. Closing the deal after toiling over a carefully crafted proposal was a jubilant achievement. But there’s something about a physical challenge that can’t be duplicated by writing a paper or acquiring new business.

According to a post by The Renewal Point : “Putting your body and mind through physically challenging – or even demanding – activities literally trains your mind to be open to new ideas, new discoveries and new opportunities. You’ll find yourself seeking fulfillment in the joy of simply exploring – rather than trying to relive old, worn out stories. Next, regularly challenging yourself physically trains and builds your self esteem and confidence. When you can regain a sense of agility or overcome new challenges for the first time, your self image soars with new confidence and certainty. And that sense of self gets translated to everything you do.”

It’s true. My confidence shift began when I started practicing hot yoga and then blossomed as my handstand practice began to evolve. The self-assurance I’ve gained from handstanding has literally changed my life and my outlook regarding challenges — both physically and mentally. I’m more apt to take chances (I quit my job without having another one — yikes!) and to try new things (I frequently attempt crazy yoga poses that once seemed out of my reach) — all as an older woman who didn’t become physically active until later in life.

The point of this isn’t to dwell on the low you may experience after a successful accomplishment, rather to point out that many people miss out on the gratification that comes with the effort — because they don’t want to try, or are afraid of failure. If it seems too difficult or unattainable, isn’t it easier to chuck the whole idea and try for something easier — or to not try at all? I’ll admit I’ve had some frustrating moments during my handstand journey when I thought it would never happen, but what a sweet, sweet, feeling of euphoria when I finally found success!

But this phenomenon is not just true for me. We all need that “next physical challenge” — something we’re working toward, where we see progress, and can grow from the experience. It’s what keeps us alive and motivates us to make the most out of this wonderful life while we’re living it. I may never press into a handstand or hold a tuck, but I’ll sure experience a lot of gratification — simply from the doing — while working toward results.

Are you physically challenging yourself?

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