It’s good to strive for continuous improvement. A constant state of dissatisfaction with the status quo can help us to achieve great things.  Jim Collins coined the phrase “Productive Paranoia” In Great By Choice to capture this point (in the context of what makes the most successful people stand out.)

But constantly being dissatisfied is, well… not very satisfying; it doesn’t exactly make us happy.  Over time this can really wear us down if we don’t think about striving in the right way.

It sounds like an oxymoron, but we can be both satisfied and happy with who we are (and what we have achieved) to date, whist also being dissatisfied and striving for further progress at the same time.  Not convinced that you could hold on to these two seemly contradictory feelings at the same time?  Well consider it like this:  How healthy is our striving?



Rightly or wrongly, we tend to think of most things in competitive terms.  If we think of it as a race, bear in mind that your position in the field right now is less important than the progress you are making through the field.  Would you rather be in 10thposition, but getting overtaken, or 40thbut rapidly advancing through the field?  Whether we’re richer, more senior or more well known right now, is less important than how much we are learning and growing.

In a race, people can sprint the first half, over-eager to get to the finish line. But will they still be running strongly at the end?  Have they got ahead of you now, by risking family, friends, fitness, personal growth etc.? Are they measuring their position by pounds in the bank rather than job well done or value added?  Are you comparing your position to someone who frankly has got the wrong finishing line in mind?

OK, I think I’ve stretched that analogy far enough.  The message is, be wary of striving just because others appear to be ahead of you.  Strive, by all means, but do so because you can see ways in which you can add more value to your organisation or can grow and develop as an individual, increasing your ability to add more value in the future.  This is healthy striving, driven by the right purpose.


The Journey AND the destination

Healthy striving, still gives us room to enjoy our progress.  Its not constantly comparing ourselves unfavourably to others, it is constantly looking for progress in ourselves, by comparing ourselves to where we were yesterday.  We can be happy with the progress we have made towards our goal over the last 24 hours, whilst still restless to improve further.

Life is not all about the destination, but it is not all about the journey either.   We can keep both of these two things in our mind at the same time.

Professor Richard Wiseman would probably appreciate the Doublethink here (keeping two potentially contradictory things in our head at the same time) because there is a clear parallel with setting successful goals.


Click on this link to explore how to set successful Goals

Click on this link for a quick and practical overview of the Neuroscience of Happiness