What guides you when you’re faced with a difficult decision?
For many of us, our choices are often driven by what we hope to achieve or prefer to avoid. But looking forward—towards something we want—also means that we don’t have it right now. In other words, if we're not paying attention, we might get tangled up in a "lack trap," identifying ourselves as someone who doesn’t have what they want or need.
We all know stories about people who achieved incredible things because of an insatiable hunger for something. We may wonder how people stick with it when difficulty arises. because the reality is that many, many people strive and struggle to get what they want and fail.
Here's an important secret. Brain studies highlight that there's an important difference between a brain that's constantly craving, hungry, and yet not fulfilled vs. one that actually begins to experience a taste of the future reward. The research shows that if one's desire for fulfillment isn't experienced for an extended period, the actual desire wains and the person gives up. Whereas the person who experiences the sweet taste of success along the way, is far more motivated to continue to pursue the goal. In fact, their willpower and motivation might actually increase.
So how does one do this? We began to detail this approach—one that we also explore in our book, Thriving in Business and Life and the accompanying online course—in last week's post. Now, this week, we'll dive into it in more detail.
You may remember in our last post, that we encouraged you to take the time to envision what it is you want and ask yourself how you’ll feel when you’ve actually got it. Interestingly, we’ve found that many clients who try this technique initially respond with more of a thought than a feeling. For instance, they might describe that when the achieve their goal, they will "feel successful." But, if you think about it . . . is success actually a feeling?
Not really. Success is more of a condition, or a result. So, as we invite a client to dig deeper, we'll ask them, “What will that success feel like?”
Try this for yourself for a moment. Right now, muse about something you want. See if you can imagine having just achieved or accomplished it. See yourself in that future moment, after the success has already occurred. Now visualize where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing. Next, imagine experiencing the feelings that come with having accomplished your goal.
Sit with the experience for a moment and focus what you are feeling into a word or two that describe those real emotions . . . words like happy, grateful, thrilled, appreciative, stoked, etc. As you do so, say the words out-loud that describe your future emotional state and allow yourself to feel those feelings now.
Making contact with these future-present feelings can change everything because the more we practice accessing those feelings, the stronger they become and the more easy they are to access.
Then, instead of pushing towards a future reward, we can be pulled forward by tasting the feeling we will have when we succeed. That anticipated feeling, if deeply embodied, becomes a compass of sorts. Armed with this "feeling compass," we can face important decisions by simply asking: “Which path will increase the feeling I’m already having and lead me closer to my goal.”
Think about it another way. Whenever we travel from one place to another, we’re constantly changing locations as we move forward . . . but our destination stays the same. We might fly from Portland to Salt Lake City to Chicago. Chicago, however, remained our destination throughout. Similarly, when we’ve identified our emotional destination and keep it in focus, it stays the same while we make our way towards it. This becomes particularly important when seeming setbacks or detours start to pull us off course.
Cultivating the ability to experience the feelings of a future success, now, also means that we aren’t waiting to get our emotional reward. We’re experiencing it now . . . well before we achieve the physical success it’s attached to. In other words, our pursuit isn't going to be thwarted by a case of "craving burnout."
For most people who experiment with this process, it does take some practice to be able to easily generate feelings strongly and proactively. That’s because many of us have been taught to believe that other people and circumstances make us feel the way we do. But, the truth is, we choose how we feel, albeit unconsciously, as a response to what happens.
We can also choose to imagine how we would like to feel when we’ve achieved a specific result and use that feeling to guide us towards success. That’s the principle we invite you to experiment with as we explore this week’s Thriving challenge:
Think of a goal you’d like to achieve or something you want to experience in the future.
Now imagine you’re in that future, after having already accomplished your goal.
Imagine the feeling you’ll have and allow yourself to feel that feeling now.
As you go throughout the week, practice accessing that feeling and
allow it to become a compass for your various decisions.
What choice will keep that feeling alive or strengthen it?
That question enables you to access your feeling compass.
Will Wilkinson and Christopher Harding