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Goal Setting and Your Happiness Balance Sheet

A few days ago I published the post: How Lofty Should Your Goals Be?, and I argued that you shouldn’t let the size of your goals exceed your ability to reach those goals.

I want to reinforce that point here with some additional considerations.

Tony vs. Buddha

In his book Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton gives a formula:

Satisfaction = Accomplishments/Expectations

We can quibble about whether this formula works in every case or not. But there’s a great intuitive appeal here.

When our accomplishments lag our expectations, we feel bad.

When our accomplishments exceed our expectations, we feel good.

If we want to feel good about ourselves, one way to do it is to INCREASE our accomplishments. (The “Way of Tony (Robbins)”)

And another way to do it is to DECREASE our expectations. (The “Way of the Buddha”)

With de Botton’s formula, it’s a matter of . . .

Managing Your Happiness Balance Sheet

Managing our sense of well-being can be much like managing a balance sheet in a business.

Take the ratio between revenues and expenses. We’ll call it “Profit Power”.

Profit Power = Revenues/Expenses

(I had trouble finding a term of art for this simple ratio — it’s basically the inverse of what’s commonly called “business efficiency”. In some contexts people use the term “Benefit-Cost Ratio”. Profit Margin and ROI get at the same thing, but are slightly more complicated formulas that break the strict analogy :) )

Sometimes in business we can affect profit power most by REDUCING expenses.

Sometimes we do it best by DRIVING revenues.

The power of this analogy is in the way it invites you to ask the question: “Can I afford my expectations?”

Now, here’s a question worth thinking about:

Can We Accomplish More While Expecting Less?

If we pursue the “Way of Tony” exclusively, without paying any attention to the fact that our expectations are growing faster than our accomplishments, then we will be constantly dissatisfied — even if we accomplish a great deal.

And if we pursue the “Way of Buddha” exclusively, without trying to achieve anything, we will also be dissatisfied, because, after all, we can’t get rid of all expectations — some are pretty firmly wired in. We have to accomplish SOMETHING.

But we can try to follow both ways simultaneously. We can goose revenues while cutting costs. And we can achieve more while expecting less. It’s a juggling act, perhaps, but well worth it if we can pull it off.

Now, can anybody tell me what’s in this picture?

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