How High Achievers Can Overcome The PGALS After a Big Win
Yes! You did it!
You completed a marathon. Published a book. Got the big promotion. Took that vacation of a lifetime. Married the love of your life.
You should be feeling great. On top of the world. The joy of this moment should last forever.
Instead, two days later you feel disappointed.
Uh oh, you’ve got PGALS.
I’m just getting over a bout of it myself. I recently finished creating and teaching the first cohort of my new high-level networking master class and competed in the “Huntsman World Senior Games,” winning my age group in the 800 meters and 1500 meters.
Once I got over the physical exhaustion, instead of feeling thrilled and proud, I was restless and listless. It’s a strange combination that really doesn’t put you in any kind of good mental state. I couldn’t really rest, but I also couldn’t wrap my head around another challenge yet.
I started feeling guilty about not celebrating during every waking moment. I was feeling let down instead of elated after making these big goals. That’s when I decided to name it PGALS… “Post Goal Achievement Letdown Syndrome.”
Turns out that post achievement depression is very common among high achievers.
Once you understand that, you too can take positive actions to not let this normal process drain away the value and excitement of what you just did.
Take Time to Celebrate and Reflect
Too often we’re like someone who gulps their food down without pausing. We gobble up that big win and before it even has time to digest, we’re grabbing for the next one. The harder and longer you worked to achieve something, the longer you should take to enjoy the results.
Linger over those vacation pictures, tell your marathon story over and over, gaze at your newly wedded beloved! Take your medals into your co-working space (confession: I still have them in my briefcase bag). Keep mementos visible such as the medal you earned or framed vacation photos.
We tend to forget over time how important something was or how big of a deal it was at the moment, especially if we’re constantly improving and our big goals are measurable things such as PRs or business sales goals.
If you keep a journal of your accomplishments be sure and write down how great it felt at the time to make that big win.
Understand The Hedonic Treadmill
This is our tendency as humans to return to a fairly narrow range of happiness over the long run even when really great or terrible things happen. Even though you’ve accomplished this incredible feat, built this amazing thing, etc. you still will be about as happy as you were before.
If you understand this, you can plan for and even anticipate that while the experience might be life or career-changing, it’s not going to make you magically more happy forever.
Don’t Fall for the Tyranny of Expectations
It’s not so much the actual results that are the problem, but what we expected to happen. If you thought you were going to get a $10,000 a year raise, and you “only” got a $5,000 raise, you might actually be mad. Even though you still got a raise.
Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, is actually quite the practical philosopher as well as cartoonist. He subscribes to having “no expectations,” especially in particular to meeting new people. When he was single, he worked to meet lots of new people but had no expectation on whether he thought he would date them. As he said in a blog post, “If I meet someone with a 4.5 tennis level and lots of free time, perhaps I have a new tennis partner. If we click on some other level, that’s great too. No expectations.” (This is also great advice for networking by the way because it makes for a very pleasant first meeting.)
If it wasn’t as big a win as you expected, you might have won, but still be disappointed. I did this when I competed in the USATF Masters Nationals track meet. I ran a PR for the 1500 meters, but it wasn’t anywhere near what I was expected. My coach said, “I’ve never seen anyone so unhappy about a PR!” I realized I was being unfair to myself and immediately adjusted my attitude. Besides, if Coach is happy, the runner is happy!
Success Breeds Success
In the job search world, they talk about “transferable skills” meaning you might not have the exact experience they’re looking for, but something you’ve done can apply to the possibility of success.
That’s what achieving big goals can do for you. Once you’ve broken through a massive barrier, then that natural tendency to look around to figure out what you can conquer next is a great way to keep the momentum going. Just give yourself time to enjoy it and recuperate before climbing the next Grand Teton!
Even so, if you’re a high achiever, you’re probably always going to experience higher levels of restlessness and “Okay, next!” than your more mellow counterparts.
There’s value in knowing that it’s natural to have a let-down after a big goal. By putting a name to it like “Post Goal Achievement Let-down Syndrome,” I remind myself that it’s all part of the territory and that I can navigate it in a way that helps me continue to grow and develop while not losing my edge.
Take a moment and do the same for yourself.
BETH BRIDGES is the author of “Networking on Purpose: A Five-Part Success Plan to Build a Powerful and Profitable Business Network.” She attended over 2,500 networking events in 10 years, secured a new job in 18 hours with one email, and launched a marketing consulting business through networking. She speaks at chambers of commerce, associations, and conferences across North America. Beth, 2018 Western Regional 400m and 800m W45 Champion, is training to compete in the World Masters Athletics Championships in 2020. Learn more at The Networking Motivator.