The pursuit of happiness is a right we hold dear--one of the core principles of freedom. But the term can create anxiety, confusion, and frustration as we chase such an elusive target. Is happiness a shiny new car? Financial security? Safety? A winning golf score? A Pharrell song?

While happiness is a deeply personal concept for which we all have our own individual definitions, I was recently struck by self-help guru Tony Robbins' simple yet poignant definition: "Happiness is progress." As I reflected on my own personal and professional life, this really resonated with me. My own moments of deep contentment and joy were often linked to progress toward a worthy cause--even more so than reaching the actual goal. Working toward a target that matters, knowing that you are inching closer toward victory, is one of the most profound definitions of happiness I've heard or experienced.

So if happiness can be unlocked through progress, how do we achieve it? Here are five concrete steps to fuel progress toward any goal you choose to pursue:

1) Clarify the destination. If you've ever completed a puzzle, you'll remember the importance of the box cover. By having a clear picture of the desired end-state, you're able to figure out where the pieces go. Without that box cover picture, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. The same is true for your business and life goals. The clearer the vision, the easier it will be to navigate your course.

2) Use a series of sprints. Dissect your large goal into a series of sprints, ideally two weeks or shorter. Break down your big vision into short, manageable bursts that can be tracked and monitored. Much easier to figure out what needs to be done in the next two weeks compared to the next five years.

3) Delight in deadlines. Nothing drives progress like a deadline. Vague, directional actions such as "I'll try to read more" fizzle out like summer holiday sparklers. Instead, put hard deadlines in place if you want to maximize tangible progress.

4) Find outside accountability. We humans are great at rationalizing our missteps and distractions. Which is why putting a system of third party accountability in place is critically important. A friend, colleague, spouse, trainer, or advisor will hold your feet to the fire to ensure those commitments don't become soft.

5) Assess and adapt. After each sprint, review the results and your approach. What changes could be made to improve the next cycle? The beauty of short sprints is that they can be measured, allowing you to both enjoy the wins and make adjustments in rapid succession. Now you can course-correct before getting too far off track, allowing you to make your progress efficient and impactful.

If Tony Robbins is correct that happiness = progress, we can now take an active role in discovering it. Embrace this deliberate approach to progress and your happiness will ensue as a byproduct.

And that makes me happy.

 

Published on: Apr 26, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.