Many have experienced it: after achieving a major accomplishment for which one had been preparing for weeks or months, one does not feel what one thought one would feel. It can be a very important sports victory for professional athletes or even the “simple” fact of having completed a marathon.
Especially when one is preparing for so long to undergo a test that is consumed within hours (or even minutes or seconds, for some), it is inevitable to project every effort in that direction. By eventually loading it with exaggerated expectations or imagining it with such precision that we are inevitably disappointed when it eventually happens.
Where is the mistake being made? It is not just one: the main ones are, as mentioned, that of projecting and focusing all expectations on a single event that does not depend only on us and is conditioned by multiple factors, and finally that of considering it an end, a validation of our capabilities. If you get the result you thought you were going to get, the satisfaction will not compensate for the disappointment in finding that expectations were dashed.
So? Should you not even try in fear that success may not give you joy? Obviously not.
How long does happiness last
As I said, the feeling of dissatisfaction affects not only us amateurs but also professional athletes, especially when they achieve victories that place them in the Olympus of Sports. If there is no greater victory than that (like being world champions in some sport) what can reasonably be the motivation for them to continue competing afterwards? Winning the same thing over and over again? Attempt in another discipline? Avoid getting depressed? Perhaps making peace with the fact that it is not just winning that counts is already a step.
As Agassi said:
A win doesn’t feel as good as a loss feels bad, and the good feeling doesn’t last long as the bad. Not even close.
Perhaps a root of the disappointment that comes from winning (which, again, can be completing a half-marathon or marathon, it’s not like you need to win them) is related precisely to its duration, which pales in comparison to how much it burns to fail.
The Arrival Fallacy
This feeling has a precise name and is called the “arrival fallacy,” or “the fallacy of goal attainment” (as Annamaria Testa suggests, quoting the inventor of this definition, Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar): it consists of idealizing the goal one is pursuing, be it a sporting achievement but also the possession of something.
Have you ever wanted a piece of clothing, an object or an experience and, after coming into possession of it, had no particular satisfaction with it? Psychology explains that we are very good at fabricating fantasies about “what it will be like or what it might be like to experience something ” just as we are good at deluding ourselves that that feeling has an indefinite duration. Instead, as Agassi explains, happiness is short-lived, just like victory.
The journey counts, not the destination
I feel you are getting desperate: but if getting something, especially at the cost of great personal effort, doesn’t produce a lasting feeling, what’s the use of striving? What is the meaning of this?
Do not set the condition “If it happens, then,” that is, do not make the satisfaction for something dependent on the occurrence of this event. “If I complete the race with the time I set for myself, then I will be happy.” So you just deceive yourself, creating a condition that does not in itself have the power to give you lasting happiness. But this last statement can also be read another way: just as it does not have the power to give you lasting happiness, neither does it have the power to give you endless sadness. Victory or the achievement of a certain result to which you aspire has a definite duration and should be enjoyed when it happens. And that’s it.
It is said that “the journey matters, not the destination”, and the solution to the dilemma lies in this quote. This is taught to us by Eliud Kipchoge, a man who, judging by the number of his victories, should know well the feeling of dissatisfaction that comes with them. Instead, his very behavior explains how he handles results: after each victory he is satisfied but never celebrates recklessly. He is already thinking about the next challenge, which does not mean – mind you – that he cannot enjoy the result. He considers it only for what it is, which is a passing satisfaction.
To think that it all ends there and that all aspiration is exhausted in victory would lead him to believe that he has arrived, whereas he wisely prefers to consider that he is always on a journey. Being on the move toward new challenges is what motivates him, and victories are just steps. They last a blink of an eye, should be enjoyed but soon forgotten or rather relegated to a short span of time to be remembered but not obsessively relived.
Here and now
Even the ancient Romans said it: what matters happens hic et nunc, here and now, in the present moment. Victory or whatever outcome you set your mind to is accomplished now, the journey to get there was a set of present moments that brought you closer to that moment.
Serenity comes from being able to live fully in that moment, appreciating its qualities and overlooking its fleetingness.
That moment you sought and suffered for lasts, precisely, a moment. And when it has passed there is only to think of the next one, without giving time for sadness to take hold of you. You are on the road again.