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How to Ensure Dissatisfaction is a Key to Success

Andrew Cox

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In the important areas of our lives, dissatisfaction is a positive - a way to constantly improve. At the same time, dissatisfaction has its limitations. Applying dissatisfaction to many areas of life just leads to frustration and regret.

In my first job, as a salesman with Procter and Gamble, at the annual sales meeting the Vice President of Sales got up and gave a speech on “divine discontent. " He told us we should never be satisfied with what is, we should always be striving for more, we should be aiming for the stars. We all got up and cheered and applauded. That was years ago, and the message in that speech has always stuck with me. He was right - being content with the status quo as a salesman is a recipe for failure.

We are constantly given the message that to stay in place is to lose ground; that today is all we have; that the future can be better, if we make it so. Those are all terrific messages and beliefs, and shape the behaviors and motivators of achievers.

But taken too far, those messages and beliefs can become a trap that can lead to all kinds of problems. Problems that grow out of the habit of thought called dissatisfaction. And that dissatisfaction - that habit of thought that can be so positively powerful, can lead to failure, dropping out, leaving things unfinished, procrastination, perfectionism and constant frustration.

In the new Woody Allen movie, " Vicky Cristina Barcelona, " in a very intense scene, Maria Elena, Penelope Cruz's character, accuses Cristina, Scarlett Johannson's character, of being addicted to dissatisfaction.

"Addicted to Dissatisfaction. " What a great description! That state of mind where everything can be better - or different. That place where whatever is being done is not good enough. Where there is always something more important, more exciting, more fulfilling, more valuable, more rewarding. It's being in that emotional place where nothing seems to be right, where everything is just a little bit off, a little bit less than desired.

We've all met people who seem to focus only on what didn't happen, what wasn't just right, what didn't meet standards, what was a little off balance. Their dissatisfaction just sucks the life out of whatever it is they have focused on.

And when dissatisfaction extends to the unimportant areas, and it's easy for that to happen, dissatisfaction becomes a destructive force. And recognizing that it has happened is often difficult. But “Addiction to Dissatisfaction"can negatively affect relationships, performance, health.

How to focus dissatisfaction on the important few, and adopt a more tolerant approach to the unimportant many - to get rid of an “Addiction To Dissatisfaction"?

The first step is recognizing the symptoms. Here are ten key symptoms of “Addiction To Dissatisfaction. ".

1 - Being unable to separate the really important from the not really important. Treating everything the same, with the same intensity and focus.

2 - Increasing a performance expectation as soon as soon as the old expectation is met - without regard to its real importance.

3 - Criticizing yourself for not doing more - whatever that means. And then extending that criticism to other people, situations and solutions.

4 - Finding it difficult if not impossible to celebrate victories because they fall short of the ideal.

5 - Considering “good enough" to be unacceptable performance - on anything.

6 - Being convinced that you could have done much better if you had more time, more training, more focus, more resources. Feeling that what you did wasn't your best work.

7 - Feeling that the people you associate with, work with, live with are not quite up to snuff, Not quite what you imagined, not quite what you expected, not quite what you hoped for.

8 - Striving for the ideal solution, behavior, outcome, and being satisfied with nothing less, without measuring the importance.

9 - Judging accomplishment against the ideal, and finding fault with the difference between the two - without evaluating the importance of the difference - or the accomplishment.

10 - Thinking that there are more important things to be done than what is being done now - without being able to really define what those more important things are.

Once recognized, how can you overcome this Addiction to Dissatisfaction while keeping dissatisfaction as a key to improvement in the important things?

It starts with being aware that this habit of thought is imbedded in motivators and behaviors. Start by reviewing the key symptoms, and determine if they describe you. You can't fix something that you don't know exists on a conscious level.

And then:
- Treat only the very few really important things as worthy of constant striving. Constant striving on everything just leads to never doing anything very well.

- Realize and accept that “good enough" ain't bad - almost all of the time.

- Create SMART goals - for only the few important things and be satisfied with meeting the goals and then celebrate meeting them. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant, Time framed.

- Create goals that align with the goals of others who have influence over what you consider important - like your job. Continue to resist the very human impulse to add goals - keep the truly important to 3 to 5 goals - no more.

- Understand and accept that “meeting goals" for SMART goals is excellent performance.

- Beware of goal creep - that self inflicted monster that keeps moving the bar higher and higher - even when it makes little if any sense.

- Accept that there are areas in your life where performance is not what it is in the core areas - that doesn't mean failure - it means being human.

- Be as focused as that fabled fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. In one scene he tells his assistant, Dr Watson, that he doesn't care if the moon goes around the sun or the earth goes around the sun. It makes no difference to him - all that knowledge could do to him would be to divert him from his truly important work. That work - in his case - is being the best detective he can be. Focus works to brush aside dissatisfaction with the trivial many.

Then keep striving - on the few things where striving will make a difference. Watch that Addiction To Dissatisfaction disappear, and be replaced by effective, focused accomplishment.

Andy Cox is President of Cox Consulting Group LLC. The focus of his work is on helping organizations and their people increase their success in the hiring, developing and enhancing the performance of leaders and emerging leaders. Cox Consulting Group LLC was started in 1995, and has worked with a wide range of organizations, managers and leaders - helping them define success, achieve success and make the ability to change a competitive advantage. He can be reached at


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