Begin with the end in mind. – Stephen Covey
All the great motivational speakers talk about the importance of goal setting. The reason so many authors are talking about the same stuff— setting goals, creating vision boards, establishing good habits, managing the use of your time— is because these things work! There is no successful person out there that got to be successful without a plan, and there is no plan without a goal.
Imagine having to shoot an arrow without being given a target. Where would you aim? And say you did aim at some random thing (out of sheer perplexity). Why would you aim there? And what would the purpose be? Get the idea… This is a literal example of what life is like without a goal or target in mind. It’s pointless and waste of energy and effort.
Setting a goal has a powerful effect on how we see ourselves as people. When you set a goal, you are shifting your self-identity in a very real way. Why does this happen? Because the human brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, the same neurons fire whether we think about a real or imaginary situation. See here for the study conducted by a group of scientists at UCLA
Making a list of goals feels organised, invigorating and inspiring. Or it can feel daunting and completely unrealistic. If we’re not careful just going through the process of setting the goals can become the end in itself. What we need to remember is that the aim is to achieve the goal. To do so requires motivation and self control.
One of the oldest theories in motivation neuroscience is approach and avoidance motivation. Jeffrey Gray (1970) postulated that all behavior is driven by two neurobiological motivational systems – one that responds to rewards and one that responds to threats or punishment.
When setting a goal, ask yourself what will drive you to reach the goal – fear or reward. There is no right or wrong, if you understand what fuels your desire you will be more prone to staying on course. Another great read on neurobiological motivational systems can be found here.
Dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood.
The more times you succeed at something, the longer your brain stores the information that allowed you to do so well in the first place. That’s because with each success, our brain releases dopamine. When dopamine flows into the brain’s reward pathway (the part responsible for pleasure, learning and motivation), we not only feel greater concentration but are inspired to re-experience the activity that caused the chemical release in the first place.
The fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it.
This is all well and good for short term goals, but how can we use dopamine to stay motivated for long term goals? The secret is divide and conquer, break the goal down into smaller achievable tasks. Remember the quote “ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” The cultivation of small wins will propel you to bigger success. Each task accomplished gets you one step closer to the bigger goal, and helps success become a habit! This is why goals and tasks are absolute core to the FutureSSecured Happiness App.
In order to utilize and trigger neuroplasticity there are two important concepts to remember. The first one is: “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. For example, let’s say your goal is to exercise more regularly. As you practice setting your alarm each morning, getting up to go for your walk, a new firing pattern between neurons is created. As you repeat this routine, the activation of these neurons at the same time will create a new brain map, i.e. new connections and pathways. The more that new brain map is used the clearer and more quickly the neurons will fire.
The second rule is “Neurons that fire apart, wire apart.” This means that when you stop getting up to go for your walk in the morning, this newly formed brain map begins to disintegrate and the protein needed to form a new neural pathway is used to further establish and embed older, more entrenched pathways. Research has shown that in order for a new neural pathway to be established in the brain, it takes 63 days – 63 days for a new habit to be learnt. But continual practice is still needed to firmly entrench it in your brain.
How to set goals
Many of us are aware of setting SMART goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, in a Time Frame. This is a logical, structured and useful way to set a goal. It caters primarily to our “left brain”. To activate the “right brain” we need to engage concepts, sensations, creativity and emotion. I came across the acronym SAFE as a reminder of right- brain activation tools to use once a goal is established- See It, Accept It, Feel It and Express It. Once we have a goal, we really need to make it come as alive as possible in our brains.
According to Emily Balceti when we focus on the goal in our mind’s eye, Balcetis found that goals actually looked 30% closer (and thus more achievable). And when goals look closer, any progress we make towards achieving those goals actually feels easier, so we psych ourselves up and not out. And the goal feels 17% easier.
We believe that to lead a happy life you need to focus of 5 areas of life, Relationships, Finance, Physical and Mental health and Spiritual well-being. So we need goals for all these areas.
When setting goals for each area ask yourself “What would I want for this pillar of my life if I knew there were no limits?” Don’t worry about how you will achieve it yet. Just compile a written list of anything you truly want. These are your dreams.
Next go over the list and any of the items you can picture achieving within a given period write the time frame next to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a week, a month, a year or a decade. If you cannot see yourself achieving it then write the initials SD (some day) next to the item.
Finally choose your single most important one-year goal in this pillar—a goal that once accomplished will give you the highest dopamine spike ever! Store the rest of your list away safely and focus on this one goal for this one pillar.
Goals alone can inspire, but knowing the deepest reasons why you want them in the first place can provide you with the long-lasting drive and motivation necessary to persist and achieve. So next, take a few minutes to write a paragraph about why this goal is so important to you. How will it change your life? Also take notes about what it will mean to you if you do not achieve it. Write this goal on a card that you can stick on the fridge or next to your bed, you want to see it daily. If you use the FutureSSecured Happiness App you can enter it there so that it is always with you your phone.
You need to keep your goals in your consciousness constantly. So spend time daily visualizing how it will feel to accomplish the goal. But most important is you need to take immediate action toward achieving the goal, goals without a plan are also just dreams! To make them real write down five small tasks that you can do over the next few days towards achieving the goal. As you achieve these smaller tasks, tick them off your list. This will give you the dopamine release that will motivate you to keep going.
Each night before you go to bed, think of the task you will perform toward your goal tomorrow, and celebrate the task you accomplished today.
As you mark off a task, add a new one to the list so that you don’t lose momentum. If you do this daily you will without doubt accomplish your goal and it won’t be long before you are reviewing your list and choosing the next goal to accomplish.
As always I encourage your comments and constructive criticisms. Thanks for stopping by.