How to Overcome Post-Achievement Depression

How to Overcome Post-Achievement Depression

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

Do you ever work really hard at something, only to reach your end goal and then feel… well, a little underwhelmed? You wonder what happened to that sense of accomplishment you had been working toward and you may even feel guilty for not being able to appreciate all your hard work and the praise you’re receiving from others.

In this post I’m going to explore this common problem faced by most of us that pursue massive goals, and I’m going to suggest some tips for getting past it.

The Pattern

I have a friend who is an actor and playwright and a couple years ago she began putting on her own shows. Her shows always do really well, and sometimes even sell out. But I have noticed two things that seem to occur immediately after the show has ended:

  1. She doesn’t seem to be entirely satisfied with her show or see it as an achievement at all.
  2. She seems to discount or distrust the majority of the praise she has received.

It is only weeks or months later when I notice her truly starting to feel proud of her work.

This is a common pattern: the initial thrill of working toward something you are passionate about, the underwhelm once that thing is finally complete, and the slowly returning satisfaction and sense of gratification.

The final phase lies somewhere between the initial excitement and the complete distrust. It is a more rational appreciation of how the project went, where you nailed it and how you could do things better next time.

Why Does This Happen?

Deriving Too Much Validation from Other Peoples’ Opinions Can Hurt Us

This post-accomplishment underwhelm is a protection mechanism. It’s very tempting to bask in the praise you get from other people or to allow your head to swell, but it’s also dangerous and your body knows it.

Allowing our emotions and our sense of self to be swayed so easily by other peoples’ reactions is dangerous. If our self-esteem is at the whim of other people’s opinions, then our emotions are going to wax-and-wane constantly, depending on what others say. Plus, we are never going to feel fulfilled as we will always be looking outside for that continuous validation.

It therefore makes sense for us to be thankful for the praise, but not let it affect us too much. We don’t want to become reliant on it.

Similarly, we need to learn to separate our sense-of-self from the criticism. Sometimes criticism is constructive and helpful, other times it is not. But never should it be perceived as a reflection of we are as a person.

This is a hard idea to get into your head, especially if your project is something very personal to you and you have poured your soul into it. It’s something I struggle with regularly. But you must remind yourself that you are not your work.

On Some Level We Believe Ourselves to be Undeserving

This reason for the post-achievement depression is less helpful. We have been taught from a young age that good things don’t usually happen without something bad happening, that “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.

We tend to be skeptical of good things that come into our lives and have a hard time enjoying them. Instead, we are constantly preparing ourselves for the ultimate disappointment that is surely right around the corner.

This comes from a subconscious belief that deep down we aren’t worthy of being happy. So when good things happen, we instinctively wonder what the catch is.

We’re also not used to feeling proud of ourselves, so ironically pride feels uncomfortable. And of course, the default is always to jump back to comfort.

Some Ways to Get Past Post-Achievement Depression

Here are 3 things you can do to help lessen the blow and feel better faster.

1. Give YOURSELF Praise

Instead of relying on compliments from others, take some time to pat yourself on the back. Don’t compare yourself to others. Just think back on your journey, how you struggled, how far you’ve come, and really congratulate yourself.

Personal goals are just that- personal. It’s great if others can appreciate them, but their purpose is really about self-fulfillment, so learn to recognize your achievements and have a little celebration with yourself.

Learning to give yourself praise will also help lessen the feeling that you are undeserving of happiness. Become okay with feeling proud and content. You have worked hard and you deserve to feel good about yourself.

2. Get Started Right Away on Your Next Project

The sooner you get your mind off the old project and onto a new goal, the sooner this feeling of disappointment will go away. Even if you don’t know what your next project will be, start the next day trying to figure it out. Be disciplined and set aside some time to work, even if you don’t know where that work will lead.

If you need to take a short break and recoup, do it. But know that the longer you wait to start the next project, the harder it will be. Resistance will rear its ugly head and make you want to stay in that comfort zone forever.

3. Learn to Enjoy the Process

One of the comments on my post Battling the Fear Monster reminded me of something very important: it’s the journey that counts, not arriving at the destination.

You should, of course, try to enjoy that ultimate outcome, but make sure to appreciate the day-to-day joy you get while striving for your goals. There is a particular sense of meaning you get just knowing you’re working each day toward something big.

This, I believe, is the main reason to have goals. They make life more fun.

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How do you deal with post-achievement depression? Have you noticed this pattern in yourself?

5 Comments

  1. Aparajita says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I came a long way, revered in the glory, stood up in salutations from a lot of admirers, even patted myself on the back. Then what? This had been my ultimate goal in life for the past 10-12 years and now I have achieved it. I have made myself almost an icon and an ideal for so many to follow. I also have a fan-following. (I am an author-journo-editor).
    Now, I don’t HAVE any more goals. I have spent 3 years post-achievement trying to bask in the glory and en-cash in it. But I have a HUGE life to live on. What do I do now? No goal seems big enough to give me that impetus to take charge all over again. Nothing excites me. Absolutely nothing. Zilch. It’s like I’ve been there, done that. I am completely and absolutely sinking into this PAD. I think I need help. But I know what counselors are going to say and I cannot do those. They are going to ask me to find a new goal and give me some options which I’ll negate. Though I am depressed, I hold my pride up with all my strength and cannot admit to anyone, not even to my closest friend. I don’t know how long I can continue…

  2. Annie says:

    Wow! This describes me so perfectly. I am a student and put my heart and soul in to my work, after which it literally gets graded on a scale from 6-1. We are constantly being told how good we are, from every part of our lives. But my perseption is broken from many years of constantly excpecting myself to pull the best numbers and wanting to always please everyone. I am never good enough. I tend to be happy doing/with something up untill I present it, and then it’s no longer good enough.

  3. steve says:

    This is me down to a tee. I had set a goal to cycle around Britain in 2013.Which I accomplished and really enjoyed, but the stigma got to me, which I now to know is Post Achievement Depression. I had been informed I could not do this challenge and even got struck off the NHS for arguing my case. I do have a few ailments. My life was going nowhere, so my challenge proved to myself I am still able, i had great satisfaction in proving everybody wrong at the same time. The thing is I have turned my life around now, working again which is great, but every day I miss my adventure.The greatest thing I have ever done. So now I am hooked on them, you are right in what you say, you have to look forward and plan the next event. This is what I have now done, also next years I am cycling around the world single handed on a low budget, every spare minute goes into this now,but even before I have done this I am worrying about the stigma that will come from it. I researched the emotional aspects before my first adventure, I still found it very hard to cope until I set ways of doing the next. So I am guessing this stigma also affects endurance athletes as well.

  4. This is great. Thank you.

    I am a comedian. I started doing standup in a room performing for a bartender in the middle of nowhere. 4 years later I open for Bo Burnham in front of 937 people. pretty fckin cool.

    Thanks for making me remind myself that I am making some progress in my life goals.

    -Mike C.

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