When Plateaus Hit: Beating Your Own Success

Despite the fact that much of your career is directed toward acquiring success, little is said about post-success depression or, worse yet, post-success mediocrity. Achievement often creates plateaus; whether or not you’re explicitly experiencing post-success depression, a big win usually results in a downtick of inspiration. Where do you go from here? Why don’t you feel accomplished? How do you move past “winning”?

The “Arrival Fallacy” is the feeling experienced when you achieve a hard-earned target, only to realize that it was the goal itself – its elusive nature, incremental progress, and promise of future praise – which was sustaining your ongoing pleasure.

Without a fixed strategy, you risk falling into success-induced mediocrity. Apply these 5 tricks to keep moving forward – even after you’ve reached your goals:

1. List what you’ve learned and reflect on accomplishments.

The best way to keep moving forward? Reconceptualize your experience as a catalyst for future projects.

Hosted a popular event? Send follow-up emails soliciting candid feedback. Closed a big account? Collect information from clients about the experience. Don’t end the conversation at success – keep the ball rolling by debriefing and gathering knowledge.

Making time to learn from your achievements is vital – and skipping this step can be detrimental. Research shows that a lack of reflection can result in feeling overwhelmed, rushed, and inadequate. When you finally receive that promotion or earn a new title, take a moment to consider the actions that brought you to that point and how they will help you reach new targets.

2. Shift your perspective.

Success is not achieving a fixed goal – it’s constantly striving for a moving target. This necessary but often overlooked mental shift is the real cure for the Arrival Fallacy.

By accepting success as fluid, your attention is shifted from a single goal to the process by which this goal is achieved. Learn, perfect, and replicate the process, and you’ll entirely avoid post-success depression.

3. Set a date for your next project, soon.

Take a day (or two) to enjoy your achievement – you earned it. Even consider treating yourself to a material reward to celebrate your triumph. But don’t revel in your glory too long; following an achievement, it’s important to set goals quickly – otherwise you risk falling into a creativity rut.

4. Rediscover your “why.”

Why did you decide to take on this task in the first place? You’ve been deep into a single project for months – maybe years – and have likely, at least at times, lost sight of the bigger picture. Rediscover your mission to replenish creativity and bolster a sense of purpose.

Start by asking yourself some essential questions: what problems does your work seek to solve? Who are you addressing? Why are you the right person for this job? Once you’re satisfied with your answers, consider how your unique perspective can help to mitigate your industry’s most pressing needs. Focus in on a particular topic and begin to develop a plan of action.

5. Looking forward, diversify your goals.

It seems obvious, but the best way to avoid post-success depression is to pin your happiness to a variety of goals. For example, consider joining a committee or volunteering to spearhead a new project. Similarly, try not to prioritize a single work achievement over your personal or family pursuits.

The root cause of the Arrival Fallacy is neurological: when you are in the pursuit of an ever-approaching goal, your brain responds by releasing hormones that make you feel happy and motivated. This becomes your new normal – you not only crave the high, but you quickly come to consider it as your baseline.

When you finally reach your goal – and in consequence it ceases to exist – you no longer experience this flood of happy hormones. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle, involving a variety of diversified goals, will keep you emotionally satisfied as your career develops.

Looking for a new challenge? Sometimes your ‘next project’ involves a ‘next job.’ Get in touch to discuss your options.