Single Most Important Success Metric: Joy

What would you do if a reporter with a camera person in tow walked up to you on the street and asked you one question:  Are you successful. What would you say? I hope you would say, it depends. What are the variables? Right? I mean, success can have a lot of meanings. Today I’m talking about what I consider to be the single most important success metric: joy.

Your Most Important Success Metric: Joy! Because you can "achieve" so many things in life, but forgetting about joy will make it all less meaningful!

I’m so motivated by the feeling of success. Is that a bad thing to say? I imagine it is, but I’m going to put it out there anyway. I like the idea of understanding what I’m doing it and then finding a way to do it well. I like hearing the ‘atta girl from others.

The one thing I’m learning however, is that when it comes to being successful, the metrics are very important. Those ‘atta girls? They’re all pretty much coming from other people, which means they’re externally focused. It’s problematic.

How do you measure success?

Some common measures for success include:

  • Relationships
  • Money
  • Promotions
  • The size of your house
  • Meeting Timelines
  • The size of your jeans
  • Achieving certain goals

There are a couple of problems with these kinds of success measures. First of all, they create an If/Then mentality. IF I lose 15 pounds, THEN I will be happy. IF I get that promotion, THEN I will be successful.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I question my goals. Because, as my friend Cara Ansis of the site Fork and Beans, likes to say, when you reach a goal, the question you should ask next is: and then what!

Shawn and I just traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota to visit with his parents. We’ve made this trip now, oh, about 9 times. We’ve been married 9 years and have gone about once a year so that makes sense.

Most years we’ve had a goal mindset. It’s a 12-hour drive so we try to get it done as quickly as possible. Get there. Enjoy our time. Get back. But this year we changed things up a little.

On the way to Bismarck we bypassed Fargo and took a little two-lane highway. It was a very scenic road and we were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset, superbly cloudy skies, and even a rainbow.

North Dakota Rainbow

You can see a hyperlapse video of the above scene on my Instagram.

Then, on the way back, we took a little diversion and went through Minneapolis so we could stop by the Herbivorous Deli, a vegan restaurant I heard about. We, of course, loved the restaurant. Shawn had a vegan Italian Cold Cut sandwich and I had the vegan Turkey Havarti Dill sandwich.

Heaven. We were in heaven!

We even stopped by a city park in downtown Minneapolis and ate our late lunch on a bench by the Mississippi River. Coco and Jack enjoyed the leisurely lunch in the middle of our trip too.

An unexpected outcome? The drive was really different too. Minnesota has highways lined with forests. It was beautiful. Even though the ride was long, we really enjoyed the trip.

So, rather than thinking IF I get to Bismarck in 12 hours, THEN I will be happy, I changed the metric of success. We decided to find ways to enjoy the journey and to worry less about the number of hours in the car. JOY!

The Hamster Wheel

The problem with these kinds of metrics is that it places you on a hamster wheel. Sometimes I call it the Hamster Will, because you “will” yourself to keep going…but why?

OK. Imagine yourself as a hamster. You jump on the wheel and start running, just like every other hamster you see. Where are you going? Nowhere, but again, it’s where every other hamster is going so it must be right. Right?

Here’s a case in point:

A blogger is on Pinterest one day and notices that another blogger got 3 gazillion repins of a chocolate cake recipe. The blogger’s conclusion?  She better make a chocolate cake recipe now too, because clearly, chocolate cake recipes are the thing!

Not that I could relate to an experience like that. 🙂

But that, my friend, is how the hamster wheel works.

It’s like a goal-focused creature, without a vision, just trying to make the wheel to nowhere go faster.

These are some experiences I’ve had. How many of them can you relate to?

  • Once I get my bachelor’s degree, then I’ll measure up to everyone else and I will be happy.
  • Once I lose 15 pounds, then I will reach my full potential and be happy.
  • If I could only get that promotion, then people will respect me and I will be happy.
  • When I lose 30 pounds, then I will fit back into my favorite outfits and I will be happy.
  • As soon as I get a master’s degree, people will be impressed, I’ll get the promotion, and then I will be happy.
  • After I’m a mom, then I will be happy
  • If I could only lose 50 pounds, then I will be happy

Picture in your mind what success looks like. Is it 20 pounds lighter? Driving a nicer car? Wearing better clothes? Is it being someone who’s popular on social media? There’s no judgement here, just imagine what you think would make you feel successful.

Now, if I were to ask you to say one word that reflects the characteristic you need to achieve success, would it be:

  • Determination
  • Drive
  • Grit
  • Hard work (not really one word, but oh well)
  • Productivity
  • Willpower
  • Teamwork

Of course all of these are great words. And all of them are the kinds of words that can propel you forward on a goal. But they can also keep you going on a hamster wheel too, because they’re just “get ‘er done” words.

So, do you see the trend?

Just because you lose the 15, 20, 30, or even 50 pounds, is that going to make you happy? I’ve lost weight before and I KNOW it makes me happy…at least for the moment. It is pretty cool getting to wear stylish jeans and shopping for fashionable clothes. But it doesn’t fix that I don’t like my limp, fine hair. And if I haven’t resolved why I was overeating in the first place, the weight could come right back.

Goal-focused success is really problematic.

But recently I heard a quote that has moved me: Joy is the best measure of success.

I saw it on a coffee mug too.

If it’s on a coffee mug, it has to be true.

Joy is the best measure of success

Most Important Success Metric: Joy

I like this idea, that JOY is our most important success metric. But I immediately want to know how I can make this a thing in my life. Do I have to walk around all honkey dory all the time? Because that’s not really life.

First, let’s talk about the word. What is joy?

A dictionary definition of the word joy is: a feeling of great happiness and pleasure.

That’s so nice. I love it already!

Do you remember that song? I’ve got joy like a fountain?

We used to sing that back in my church camp days. I’m not religious anymore, but I do carry a deep sense of spirituality with me and sometimes I like revisiting those old church songs.

I was usually the one up leading the chorus. I like to sing. What can I say?

So, anyway, I like to think of joy like a fountain. It’s ever flowing.

Can you remember the last time you sat by a fountain? The sound of the flowing water can give you a feeling of peace, happiness, and pleasure.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits talks about the Joy of Letting Go of Stress. And I think there’s something to that. It’s in finding joy that we release stress. And there’s joy in that as well.

Mind blown!

How can we have more joy in our lives?

The next question is, how can we create conditions for more joy?

Well, the first thing I’ve been realizing in my life is that I want to be more vision focused than goal focused. I feel like focusing on goals is a very linear, male-patterned way of being. Let me explain.

Male and Female attributes are on a spectrum and we all have some of these attributes.

A goal-focused existence is a more male characteristic. It’s a subcategory of domination.

I want to dominate and take down those 15 pounds!

Do you feel a jolt of adrenaline saying those words? That adrenaline can be a boost to your willpower and it can really drive you to making changes, at least temporarily.

A vision statement might be something more like: I want to live a healthy, mindful, and purposeful life.

When you focus on the vision, not the goal, there’s automatically less stress involved. Less stress, according to Leo, means more joy. Ta-dah!

So, creating a vision for my life and the work I’m doing is what I’m focusing on these days.

One thing that I’ve found that helps me stay vision focused vs. goal focused is taking breaks throughout my day to reconnect with myself. I like to think of them as fun breaks. Some people take coffee breaks. Others take smoke breaks. But I don’t do either of those. For me, it’s fun breaks. These are some ideas for fun breaks:

  • Blow some bubbles. Seriously! I keep a bottle (or two) of bubbles in my back yard and I go out by myself and blow some most every day. What will the neighbors think? I don’t really care, but if they think I’m a lunatic, that kind of adds to the fun anyway. Blow bubbles like no one’s watching!
  • Dance. Sometimes I will go into a room, close the door, and turn on some good dance music. I’m in love with my Amazon Music App right now (it’s part of Amazon Prime), and I can select different play lists. I also happen to get steps counted, but I don’t make that my focus. The goal is simply to dance and have fun. In fact, I even created my own “fun music” play list for this very purpose.
  • Music While You Work. Sometimes I can get a little too serious. That can lead to feeling stressed out or worried. It’s not helpful. Not at all. Jay Pryor, my life coach, says something like this: Worry is like scaring the sh*# out of yourself for no reason. So, I turn on some fun music and get into the joy of the moment. I recently added some of the daytime songs from the POTUS Summer Playlist and I’m loving them!
  • Meditate. I feel like I’m beating a drum here, but meditation is the answer to just about everything. Is your hair falling out? Meditate. Do you need to be more productive? Meditate. Do your teeth need whitening? Meditate. OK. Maybe not that last one, but still, meditation cures a lot of what ails you. There are several free apps for meditation that you can use. Or you can just sit in a quiet room and count your breaths, in and out. Sometimes I will breathe in to the count of 4, hold it to the count of 4, let it out to the count of 4, hold my empty lungs to the count of 4. Then repeat that a few times. You can also meditate just by staying present to the moment. So, while you’re doing the dishes, pay attention to the sensation of the water going over your hands. Stay completely focused. That’s a form of meditation!
  • Yoga. Sometimes I will take a break and do a series of sun salutations. These make me feel strong, relaxed, and elastic. I know. A strange series of words to string together, but try a few and see if it doesn’t create the same feeling for you!

There are a couple of other things I do besides fun breaks that help me tap into joy. These include:

  • Mantras. I repeat a few mantras to myself to help me stay in a place of joy in my life. Some of these were encouraged by Jay, others are ones I find on my own and enjoy repeating. For example, I might say, “People like to work with me.” This one was fundamental in changing my perception of how I interacted in the world. It led me to feel more confident in how I showed up too and if you remember, confidence and joy are intertwined.
  • My Other Me’s. I have identified about four different versions of myself that I tap into when necessary. I talked about Identifying with my Me’s in another post. My five-year-old self was a mix between happy-go-lucky and tom-sawyer-tough-girl. She oftentimes tells me to get outside and dig in the dirt to be happy. When I’m walking I think about her and she always makes me smile. The monk Thich Nhat Hanh recommends a similar exercise to tap into and connect with your inner 5 year old. I also think about my 18-year old self. I like her, I call her Madi (a nickname several friends called me in high school). Madi was so enthusiastic about everything. Wildly passionate! And she would have absolutely loved the life I’m living right now. Sometimes I can get down and think I haven’t accomplished enough, but Madi is always ready to remind me that I rock!

So, staying vision-focused, taking fun breaks, repeating mantras, and connecting with your Inner self (or selves). Those are some of my favorite tips for my single most important success metric: joy.

Also, one more thing. When you have joy like a fountain in your life, you’re probably going to be fairly productive, aka successful!

If you have anything to add to the discussion about the most important success metric: Joy, share it in the comments below.

Health + Happiness,


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