There Is Not Better Than HereAug 03, 2022
“There” is no better than “here.” When your “there” has become a “here,” you will simply obtain another “there” that will again look better than “here.”
Physicians are not strangers to the concept of an arrival fallacy. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it is the idea that life will be better once we attain a goal or reach a particular destination. According to Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., “Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” For the high-achieving physician crowd, it seems like life is one arrival fallacy after another:
- “Once I get accepted to college or medical school, I will be so happy nothing else will matter.”
- “If I can just get that highly coveted residency slot or fellowship spot, my life will be set.”
- “I can’t wait to become an attending because all my money troubles will disappear.”
In each moment, the expectation is clear: Things will undoubtedly improve once my current troubles are behind me. Unfortunately, reality can be cruel and often does not live up to our expectations. We soon realize that on the other side of that journey is another steeper mountain to climb. Let’s dig a little deeper to uncover the real issue with the arrival fallacy.
At the root of an arrival fallacy is a term that might be new: Thought distortion. A thought distortion is a habitual way of thinking that is often inaccurate and negatively biased. In this case, we think we are unhappy because of our life circumstances. We believe that once we change that one thing in our life that is making us unhappy, we will finally experience constant, pure, unadulterated joy. Examples might include the amount of money in a bank account, a job, a house, a spouse, a publication in a top peer-reviewed journal, or that long-sought-after academic tenure. The truth, however, is that all of these situations are entirely neutral. On their own, having or not having these things is not preventing you from achieving happiness. It is, in fact, your thoughts about these things that make you unhappy. How can I be so sure? Would 100% of people who look at a particular bank account balance have the same feeling? Maybe $100 in a bank account stresses you out, but it might be a windfall for someone else. If at least one person could look at that bank account and feel grateful, it isn’t the bank account’s fault. The blame falls on the thoughts you have about the bank account.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you are probably familiar with the term Financial Independence Retirement Early (FIRE). The thought here is that if you squirrel enough money away at a young age, you can retire from your job and finally live the life of your dreams. Many physicians, myself included, have found themselves hustling through their thirties to pay off enormous student loan debt while saving large chunks of their take-home pay. All this so that they can retire from medicine in their early to mid-forties. In doing so, they guarantee their misery today with the hope of joy tomorrow. And most of them are pretty unhappy today. Of course, that is why they are in such a rush to retire from medicine. I refer to this as: “The race to an imaginary finish line.” However, it is essential to remember that the Financial Independence (FI) number you have chosen is entirely arbitrary. The race to FI only has one participant: You. You are racing against yourself. When you cross the finish line, there will only be one winner. What are you missing while you are racing towards this imaginary finish line?
When coaching physicians, I frequently ask my clients, “What will you do when you retire?” Most physicians haven’t thought about their next phase of life. Maybe they plan to read more, exercise more, or spend more time with family or traveling. The reality, however, is that they can be doing all of these things right now. If they could slow down and see all of their progress in life, they could also see that happiness is available to them now. Right now. The waiting part is entirely optional. It is also hard to believe that someone hustling so hard and working so diligently towards a goal will reach a magic number and then sit down and read books for the next 40-50 years of their life. The goal sounds fantastic but is not wholly based in reality.
What are some potential solutions for those who might face an arrival fallacy?
1. There is not better than here
The first step is to realize that you will not feel better or be more worthy when you reach your goal. In fact, the goal is likely to change right around the time you are about to achieve it. You’ve undoubtedly seen this play out in your life. Did getting into medical school fix your problems like you thought it would? Did a larger paycheck solve your financial woes? Maybe some things got better, but new issues arose. When one problem was solved, another one wasn’t far behind to take its place. The goal will not make you happy. You will make you happy.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others
There will always be someone further along in their journey. Do not compare your beginning or middle to their end. When you compare yourself to others, you will struggle to see all of your incredible accomplishments. If someone else reaches a goal sooner or faster, it doesn’t mean it will be harder for you to achieve the same goal. You can have everything you want regardless of what others have. You will be far more motivated to reach your goals when you focus on your progress and let others do their own thing. So show yourself some compassion. You are exactly where you are supposed to be.
3. Set goals and dream big!
This may seem counterintuitive. On the one hand, I am telling you to focus on the moment and enjoy what you have. Relish in the progress. Now I am telling you to set goals and dream big. What gives? There is a difference between goal setting and hanging your happiness on a result. Setting goals encourages us to grow, push beyond the imaginary boundaries we create for ourselves, and learn new things. We can create a new reality we never knew existed when we set goals. We stop believing stories about what is limiting us and start thinking that anything is possible. If you achieve your goal, great! If not, you will learn so much in the process of working on your goal. Either way, you win. And, while you are dreaming and planning, you are learning about yourself. So when your coach asks you what you want to do in retirement, this is where you get to figure it out!
4. Learn to enjoy the journey
You don’t have to put off happiness when you learn to focus on your incremental growth and progress. It is here for the taking right now. Maybe you want $1 million in your investment account but relish the moment when your net worth crosses from negative to positive. You are on your way to reaching your dreams, and they are that much closer because of your hard work and dedication. Don’t forget to celebrate these fantastic milestones. Celebrating your wins will encourage you to continue your journey.
5. Recognize enough
As humans, we tend to believe that if a little bit is good, then more is better. This type of thinking gets us spinning on the hamster wheel of life. We’re running fast but not getting very far. It is great to set impossible goals and push yourself to achieve great things, but remember that you are doing these things because you want to, not because you have to. Keep your “physician personality” in check. If you start to lose the forest for the trees, take a step back. Don’t trade burying yourself in medicine for burying yourself in another activity. Remember to honor your progress and your journey. The growth will serve you far more than accomplishing the goal.
It is okay to want things. Having goals that move you closer to your dreams is even better. But it is also important to remember that your life is already filled with many blessings and accomplishments. Achieving new goals may bring personal fulfillment, but it does not automatically generate happiness or joy. Happiness and joy are available to you right now. All you have to do is choose them.
Where has an arrival fallacy shown up in your life? Is there some goal or dream that you think will improve your life? What have you learned on the way to your goals? How do all the things you learned show up in your life today? Take a moment to recognize your progress and see how amazing you are in this very moment.
Are you interested in learning more about the arrival fallacy? If so, I invite you to check out my FREE TRAINING. Click here to get: How Busy Physicians Can Stop Trying To Escape Medicine And Start Living Their Best Life Today.
With this training, you will learn more about the five essential techniques physicians need to stop feeling stuck, burned out, and trapped in medicine.
PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Thomas Rhett – Sixteen
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