The daily process of working toward a desired goal can trigger reward centers in the brain whenever one gets closer to achieving that objective, let alone finally reaching the finish line. However, dedication to a long-awaited purpose or goal can be slippery. The continuous work to improve can bring an unattainable illusion of perfection or a cycle of always having new goals to take the place of those already fulfilled. Additionally, reaching the finish line may bring new challenges and responsibilities.
It can be easy to become steadfastly transfixed on achieving that goal and get mired in busy work, feeling happy when certain tasks are completed, unhappy when things don’t go as planned. Although admirable in some ways, society does reward professional and personal progress, yet working tirelessly toward an important goal can affect mood, connections, purpose, and even self-worth. And when that personal dream comes true, one can feel haunted by anxiety and a sneaky sense of disappointment. In psychology, this disconcerting letdown is called the arrival fallacy.
The neuroscience behind the arrival fallacy states that the brain releases dopamine, the hormone associated with happiness when we are working on something. Each milestone gives us another dopamine hit, making us want to work harder. But… when we reach the goal, that release of dopamine drops and we can feel a bit down or worse.
I’ve worked for over a decade to bring my recently published book, Wandering …a long way past the past, to the world. I dedicated hours to writing, editing, seeking consultation, attending workshops and classes, and learning about the publishing world, book marketing, and social media. Although I still have more to learn and do, the book is published. The limited hardcover edition is out and people are reading my story.
For the past several days, I’ve felt unmotivated, avoiding social situations, with an aversion to loud noises or crowds. My chest feels hollow. Shouldn’t I be jumping up and down? Shouldn’t I be holding out my arms wide as if to hug the world? Shouldn’t the words woohoo, I did it! be pouring out of my mouth?
I read an article stating that when we finish something big, that goal may have likely been so intertwined with our lives that we forgot about the other parts of our identity; the principles we believe in. The article also mentioned, “take some time to pause, reflect, find you.” That is what I did all week: listening to quiet music, meditating, long hours of doing nothing, staring at the big open sky wondering if the cliché “it’s the journey that matters, not the destination” is true. Value the process over the result.
How did you find solace this week?
© 2022. Sharon Kreider. All Rights Reserved
2 thoughts on “Arrival Fallacy”
Wow. What an accomplishment. I’m not surprised you have “postpartum blues” of a sort. Take care.
Thank you Carla!