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Goal setting is the same as saying “things I want to accomplish”, and when it comes to goal setting, there more and less effective ways of going about it.
When I speak to someone who doesn’t utilize the power of their brain for accomplishment, I think
- You don’t understand how your brain can take your goal setting snowball and turn it into an avalanche OR
- You like to do things the hard way (more power to you)
Either way, I’m here to show you why your brain might hold the secrets you’ve been looking for. Prepare to go from regular to rockstar in three simple steps.
On the menu
- How your brain is HEAVILY responsible for motivation in goal setting
- Negative brain effects of failure and how to create a continuous cycle of success
- Why you’re struggling to change your habits
Grab the books first
The Basic Info
Imagine that you’re on your way to a job interview. You wouldn’t show up underdressed would you?
When it comes to acing an interview, the easiest thing you can do is make sure you look appropriate. It would be silly to focus on everything else, and then show up looking like a scmuck!
But when you go after serious accomplishment and embrace goal setting without starting in the brain, you end up turning yourself into just that.
There are two parts of yourself that need attention when setting intentions for serious change in your life
- The conscious part
- And the unconscious part
So much of the already popular goal setting techniques and information show you how to harness the tremendous power your conscious-self has.
But there is not enough talk of goal setting on a physiological level.
The fact is goal setting can be broken down into four main categories: vision, motivation, action, and establishment.
Our brains happen to be heavily involved in all four areas. Still not convinced?
Goal Setting with Gas
All things require fuel to move. The fuel we use for goal setting is motivation.
Motivation is heavily influenced by dopamine
You decided to go after that big change in your life, but one morning you woke up and “just didn’t feel like it”.
You had a strong why, you connected this goal to something deeply emotional, AND you understood the steps you need to take to accomplish it. So why isn’t it working?
You cannot make something work without the motivation to do it. Any broken record can tell us how important dopamine is to your motivation levels.
What’s the dopamine doing while I’m goal setting?
Dopamine is rewarding you for your success and punishing you for your failures.
Dopamine makes you want, or not want to do things. Plain and simple.
If you decide to do something and achieve it with flying colors, your dopamine levels increase. Your brain then makes you want to experience that pleasure again because it was a pleasurable experience, so it increases your focus, energy and overall desire to keep going.
Already we can see that if you are not going after your brain when goal setting, it’s probably working against you.
Dopamine is punishing you when you fail. Do you really learn from failure? Not physiologically.
When you fail to achieve what you put down on that goal setting worksheet, your brain does not record or see the experience the same as when you are victorious.
When you fail, you are less likely to remember the experience positively, your brain is not flooding you with dopamine, and your brain’s wires do not allow you to learn from the experience like they would when you succeeded.
After a success (big or small) the brain lets a “good job” message linger there. This creates a response in your brain that makes you more likely to be successful in the future when performing the same, or similar activities.
So it’s actually NOT about fail until you make it. Failure can be catastrophic to the goal-setting process and leave you with no motivation at all…
- It can also cause your brain cells to remain the same, with no learning, so that you are destined to repeat the same habitual behaviors (that you probably want to change)
- And make it difficult for you to form new habits
Luckily there is a solution!
Goal setting the Smart Way
It is important to register as much success as possible in the goal-setting process. This does everything for you and requires almost nothing from you.
- Avoid the trap of failure by splitting your goals up into smaller achievements to be had along the way.
- Making goals smaller has several effects including tricking the brain into not budgeting glucose and causing you to procrastinate, and creating more wins along your path than you would have had previously
Something to remember: Success, big or small, is all the same to your brain.
Fun Fact: if you want to experience dopamine in real time, create a small, easy, to do list, and pay close attention to the change in your feelings and mood as you *tick* them off your list.
- Once you notice, ask yourself whether you want that feeling absent or present in your goal setting process.
- You already know the answer…
2. Your brain on Goal Setting
The conscious and unconscious parts of behaving differently.
When you’re goal setting: consciously
When you first set your goals, you think about
- Precisely what your endgame looks like and when it will occur
- What your success looks like, and how much of your goal you need to have under your belt before you can consider it to be accomplished
- Whether or not your goal is capable of being achieved in the allotted time
- How long you will take to achieve this goal
- Whether your goal is focused on the intention you have set for your life
When you’re goal setting: unconsciously
- Somewhere in your brain, a small piece of it already thinks and starts to operate as though you have attained what it is you’re after
- The brain works for you relative to how much you understand its effects on goal setting
- Sees you succeed or fail, and operates according to those results
The brain is not against you, its a machine that never turns off, so if you are not guiding it…well, just imagine that scene in Fight Club where Tyler Durden takes his hands off the wheel.
The Brain’s Success decision
When you succeed brain rewards you. When you fail, you get nothing and more on the side of actually losing something.
Remember how a piece of your brain applies ownership to the goals you set? The brain also happens to be needy and doesn’t like to share. So when it feels as though it’s lost something, it revolts, making you feel not-so-good.
These are the endowment and loss-aversion biases.
- We apply more value to what we already have in our actual or perceived possession.
- We prefer to maintain what we have over losing what we have in order to gain something new, even if that something new is better.
Silly huh? But it comes with serious effects on your goal setting
Your brain thinks you own the goal.
When you attempt steps in this goal, or the goal in its entirety, and fail, your brain not only applies all the negative effects of failure, but also feels as though it’s lost something it owned, causing you to feel depressed, unhappy, and experiencing the anxiety and fear normally associated with difficult goal setting.
HOWEVER, (not only gray skies) now that you have this knowledge, you can use your brain for your purposes, instead of letting it run wild and work on its own.
When you succeed in your attempts, your brain will not only reward you with that dopamine, but it will also see your goal as something it previously owned and now possesses more of.
- Causing you to like doing it more
- Allowing you to avoid negative effects of biases that make you want to cling to your old habits
- Getting you off the perpetual cycle of failure
REMEMBER: When you fail, your brain makes you more likely to fail again. The same for success. Get those successes in, no matter how small the objectives need to get in order to make that happen. Failure is not the end, but be smart and avoid it.
So your brain is not something evil trying to thwart you at every turn, and simply having the knowledge about how it works is enough to take your goal setting and turn you professional.
3. Goal setting, the brain, and habits
Goals are only goals until they are accomplished. Goals are accomplished when the series of behaviors necessary to achieve the goal are habitual.
The best mental switch that we can make is to understand how wide the range is for something to be considered a habit.
- Habits are behaviors we do without conscious awareness
- We are on autopilot
- These behaviors are “embedded”, and “dwell” in your brain
The simplest way to understand goal setting and achievement is that there is a you who has what you want
- The body you want
- The lifestyle you want
- Interacts with the people you want
- Has the happiness you want
- And feels about themselves, the world etc.. the way you want
That version of you thinks, behaves, speaks, listens, thinks and does a certain way. Become that person. These are the goals we are setting. Small achievements on the road to becoming exactly who we want to be.
When that happens, your goals will have become your normal behavior: habits.
Neurotransmitters in your brain help you form habits easily by harnessing the unlimited power of small victories and consistency.
We know eventually water wears away the stone, but how does consistency pressure and application work in our brains?
Take that goal and break it down into a series of behaviors you need to make habitual, then apply those behaviors in small amounts every day.
You can piggyback them on a behavior you already have set
- Like switching a smoothie for coffee while you’re having breakfast
Or you can make it part of our daily routine, by having that smoothie the same time each morning
- In order to add more fruits to your diet
The idea that our brains have so much pull and influence us can be daunting but it doesn’t need to be scary.
The brain is designed for the success of the organism, which is a natural way of referring to us humans (even though we’re people)!
The idea that it is some evil entity making things more difficult only exists for those who lack the knowledge on how to use it properly.
Now that you know, your brain will become your best friend and greatest ally in your journey to better yourself.
Remembering that goal setting starts in the brain, is the first step to becoming unstoppable.
- Understand how dopamine works
- Masterplan for successes and plan to avoid even minor failures, but do not be discouraged if they happen
- Your habits are what make you successful. Your brain has a system for developing and breaking habits. USE IT.