When you make positive and productive changes in your life, those changes can have a kind of cascade effect. You decide you want to learn how to cook and the next thing you know, you’re bringing homemade lasagna to a potluck or hosting your first dinner party. Maybe a cookbook gives you inspiration to travel, learn a language, or offers you a new way to connect a friend, family member, or co-worker.
As you work toward a new goal, there are almost always unintended positive changes that come as direct result of the ones you first intended. Not only are these little discoveries a great way to stay motivated and to keep developing, they’re also simply wonderful in and of themselves. The hard part is learning to recognize and appreciate them.
Find the fine print to stay motivated
Whether you want to build stronger relationships, live a healthier lifestyle, or watch less Netflix, goals tend to begin as something broad. But each and every positive result from your hard work comes from a specific action. (This may sound obvious, but bear with me.)
If being healthier means bringing your lunch to work more often or taking more walks, it’s easy to think of these solutions only in terms of your original goal. But more often than not, these actions offer their own payoffs. So try framing each new step you take toward your goal as a possibility. Ask yourself, “How else will I benefit from this?”
Now here’s the hard part: You actually have to do it. You can’t reap all the benefits without actually following through on your primary goals. Without actually preparing a lunch to bring to work you’ll never start having lunchroom chats with a manager who also brings theirs. Without actually getting outside to walk every morning you’ll never uncover your love of podcasts or discover a new park or neighborhood. Without actually unplugging for a few hours every night you may never find your new favorite author.
How goals can feed our lives
The truth is that we tend to partition our experiences. This is work, that is play. This is our physical life, that’s our mental life. And it makes sense. We often need some easy-to-use templates to understand our lives. But these divisions aren’t nearly as tightly sealed as we like to imagine, and so we’re surprised when positive changes we make with regard to our physical health can also result in positive rewards for our social life or mental health.
But maybe it shouldn’t come as such a shock. The odds are good that you’ve already experienced the positive and unintended results that occur along the way. Are you one of the people who finds inner-peace and calm by folding laundry or chopping vegetables? Do you find yourself finishing a crossword puzzle in record time after going for a jog? Have you ever woken up early and noticed a higher sense of accomplishment just from leaving the house earlier? Obviously your own tales of cascading rewards is unique to your experience, but chances are that you have one if you think about it.
Ultimately, there’s no way to avoid negative unintended consequences. The most anyone can do is to plan ahead, be realistic, and remain flexible when surprises pop up. But do keep an eye out for positive unintended consequences too. After all, it makes sense that when you improve one part of your life, it will affect others in a positive way as well. The key is to be open to positive developments (no matter how surprising they might be) and to remain aware enough to recognize them. And finally, once you find them, use them to stay motivated and you’ll get to your goals faster than ever.
Scott Beauchamp is a writer who lives in Maine. His work has previously appeared in The Guardian, Bookforum, Dublin Review of Books, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter here.
Top image by Unstuck artist-in-residence Bridgette Zou (This Feels Nice Series, 2017, © Bridgette Zou)