Have you ever been stuck in the “arrival fallacy”? That’s the idea that happiness and satisfaction are one big accomplishment away.
Maybe you've thought, “When I finally get that new client I’ve been aiming for, then I’ll feel successful.” Or when you hit that ambitious revenue target, then you’ll be satisfied with your business.
Or when you win that award, hire that staff member, or rent that office space.
Whatever it is, the only important factor is that it’s in the future, and you haven’t reached it yet.
Of course, the problem is that the future has a sneaky way of never arriving. As Dr. Benjamin Hardy and Dan Sullivan wrote in The Gap and the Gain, “Many—if not most—high achievers remain unhappy, and their unhappiness grows deeper and deeper with each external accomplishment.”
Why? Because “Ideals are like a horizon in the desert. No matter how many steps you take forward, the horizon continues to move out of reach.”
The secret to being satisfied with your business, and feeling successful, isn’t to achieve something else. It’s to recognize what you have now.
That’s why celebrating your achievements is critical to sustaining the motivation required to keep moving forward. If success is always on the horizon, that’s where it’ll stay. And you’ll eventually give up trying to reach it.
Instead, you could feel successful now. You could feel motivated to keep achieving, to keep trying, to keep working, because you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished. Not because you’re feeling dissatisfied with where you’ve ended up.
Striving from a place of lack has a shelf life, but earnest effort motivated from a place of contentment and pride is constantly renewable.
As Greg McKeown wrote in Effortless, “When you focus on what you lack, you lose what you have. When you focus on what you have, you get what you lack.”
It’s not hubristic to recognize your achievements, it’s the necessary ingredient to long-term motivation.
Feeling like you’re not successful until you’ve achieved something more is simply a recipe for always feeling like a failure.
And how long can that last?
That’s why we encourage—no, we insist—that our clients celebrate their achievements, big and small. It’s just smart business.
As Hardy and Sullivan put it, “Research shows that people in high-stakes situations make the best choices when in a state of gratitude.” In fact, “Positive emotions facilitate higher performance, which increases confidence and filters back more positive emotions. It’s a virtuous cycle.”
Negativity narrows our perspective, and the “arrival fallacy” makes us less likely to arrive, not more-so. We’ll be blind to opportunities, because we’re narrowly focused on one singular achievement we haven’t reached yet, instead of being open to the world of opportunities that surround us.
The optimism that’s born of celebration isn’t childish or trivial, it’s a game-changing superpower. As Margaret Heffernan wrote in Uncharted, “Optimists aren’t idiots. They do better in life—live longer, healthier, more successful lives—for the simple reason that they don’t ignore problems or give up easily.”
The key is to enjoy the process, the journey, instead of staking your feelings of contentment and satisfaction on some far off goal.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield wrote in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth that, “Success is feeling good about the work you do throughout the long, unheralded journey that may or may not wind up at the launch pad. You can't view training solely as a stepping stone to something loftier. It's got to be an end in itself.”
The work you’re doing has to be an end in itself, and you’ve got to enjoy it. And that means celebrating everything you do and achieve along the way.
Make it a ritual, and share your successes with the people close to you. Ingrid Fetell Lee, in Joyful, wrote that “Research shows that celebrating positive events with others increases our feeling that they will be there for us if we encounter tough times in the future. And not only that, but celebrating with others boosts our own joy.”
So how do you celebrate? It’s not just about associating positive moments with unhealthy habits, like gorging on a cake or downing a bottle of wine.
It’s as simple as pausing, noticing how you feel in this moment, and making some sort of record of the accomplishment.
If you don’t, in a few weeks, months, or even minutes, you won’t remember what happened and you won’t feel successful. But if you pause and appreciate the moment, and send some sort of signal that you’re proud of yourself, you’ll recall it for years—and it will fuel your motivation to move forward, despite any obstacles or setbacks.
At Kelford Inc., we record our successes, big and small, on index cards. We label what happened (the event we’re proud of), how it happened (what we did to make it happen), and why it happened (the principles underlying the actions we took). This has given us years of data on where our successes have come from, and what we should do more of to keep them coming.
Every few months, we read the cards, and look back on how far we’ve come and what’s gotten us here. It’s not just fun, it’s intensely motivating.
Form your own ritual, or borrow ours. And start today. Something good has happened to you today, you've done something difficult or achieved something you can be proud of, I'm sure of it. Even if it's just getting to your desk despite some obstacles in your path, or doing some marketing task you've been procrastinating on.
I’m sure there’s something, and I hope you'll recognize it.
So what am I celebrating today? Well, I’m thrilled to say that this week marks five years of operation for Leah and I at The Family Knife (now Kelford Inc.), and we’re focusing our week on celebrating.
Thank you to all of our clients, friends, and supporters, and thank you—each and every one of you—who read this newsletter. It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done for my business, and for myself, to stay motivated, excited, and educated about strategy, the subject I’ve dedicated my career to.
If you’ve ever found this newsletter helpful, please forward it along to a friend or colleague—I’d really appreciate it!
To paraphrase David C. Baker, “Success is a synonym for gratitude.”
Leah and I feel extremely successful, because we’re so immensely grateful for everything we’ve achieved so far, and the people we’ve been able to work with along the way.
I hope you all have a wonderful week, and I insist you find something to celebrate today, and every day, going forward.
You deserve it.