THE BLOG

Who Else Wants to Be Happy?

02/24/2015 06:58 pm ET | Updated Apr 26, 2015
Deborah Harrison via Getty Images

The Great Western Disease is "I'll be happy when..." This is our belief that happiness is a static and finite goal, within our grasp when we get that promotion, or buy that house, or find that mate, or whatever. It's inculcated in us by the most popular story line in contemporary life: There is a person. The person spends money on a product or service. The person is eternally happy...

This is called a TV commercial. The average American spends 140,000 hours watching TV commercials. Some brainwashing is inevitable. Is it any wonder that we become so attached to any change we make that we think it will change us forever? We set a goal, and mistakenly believe that in achieving that goal we will be changed forever, happy at last. But this just isn't so.

And, it gets worse. It's our attachment to the goal that keeps most of us from achieving long-term, lasting change. It's the difference between, say, getting in shape and staying in shape--hitting our physical conditioning goals and maintaining them. Even if we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline. We have to keep going to the gym.

Whether it's flat abs or a new reputation, most of us want to see results now, not later. We see the gap between the effort required today and the reward we'll reap in an undetermined future--and lose our enthusiasm for change. We crave instant gratification and chafe at the prospect of prolonged trying.

By focusing on effort, rather than goals, we distract ourselves from our obsession with results (because that's not what we're measuring). In turn, we are free to appreciate the process of change and our role in making it happen. We're no longer frustrated by the languid pace of visible progress--because we're looking in another direction.

So as you journey through your day and you find that you would like to make an attempt at changing your life or your behavior in one way or another, there are three things to remember:

1. Change doesn't happen overnight.
2. Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.
3. If we make the effort, we will get better. If we don't, we won't.

Commitment. Motivation. Self-discipline. Self-control. Patience. These are powerful allies when we try to change our ways - and even more powerful in keeping them changed.

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Please view the Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog. The next video in the series Triggers: Do Not Become Attached to the Fruits of Your Labor accompanies this article. I'll post these blogs once a week for the next 50 weeks. The series will incorporate learnings from my 38 years of experience with top executives, as well as material from my previous research, articles and books, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There, MOJO, Coaching for Leadership, and Succession: Are You Ready? The blogs will also include material from my exciting new research on engagement and my upcoming book Triggers (to be published by Crown in 2015).