Are you already beating yourself up for not meeting all the goals you set for yourself at the end of 2015? We all do it even though we know it isn’t productive or realistic. We wake up on January 1st of the new year and expect that, magically overnight, all of our bad habits will have disappeared.
We treat the arrival of the new year like a real life version of CTL-ALT-DELETE.
When our lives start to return to normal, and we feel our goals slipping away, we feel like failures. As though we squandered away the opportunity that the new year gave us. That simply isn’t true.
Don’t wait until the end of 2016 to get stuck in the same loop of resolution, expectation and disappointment. Forget the tradition of vowing promises of self-improvement on December 31st and embrace the science secrets behind setting and achieving goals.
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What are the science secrets you need to know in order to set and achieve your goals?
Science Secret #1 – Make your goal personally meaningful
A meaningful goal will take a longer period of time to plan out and reach but there will be periods of reward along the way. Drip feeding the reward centers of your brain will keep you on task and motivated.
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Easy goals to reach, like going for a daily walk or keeping a clean inbox, can be easily checked off each day but the feeling of reward triggered in the brain will start to wane. By week 3 the thrill is gone. The reward centers of your brain are not getting a rush anymore and before you know it your previous patterns and habits have returned.
A deeply personal goal will avoid that instant brain reward of checking it off a to-do list each day. Rather this type of goal slowly builds toward something that deeply affects you personally or professionally. These types of goals are challenging and unique to us.
The reward centers of your brain are lightly but consistently triggered enough to keep you motivated but not so much that you feel satisfied and stop moving forward. So dig deep and avoid building your sense of accomplishment around easy to set and achieve goals.
“Give yourself permission and time to think about what it is you want to experience in your life or what’s getting in the way.” – Kelly McGonigal
Science Secret #2 – Define your goal in a positive way
When you define your goal in a positive way you trigger brain chemistry that engages and rewards the motivation. Something like, “I want to share my expertise with a corporate client” is a far more effective goal to focus on than “I want to stop being a small business”.
The story you tell yourself does matter and impacts the way your brain responds. Negative thoughts trigger avoidance and set you up to fail when it comes to achieving your goals. Our brains are instinctively focused on self and survival, specifically the protection of self. Your brain literally starts to retreat from the idea of failure and the negativity. You unconsciously pull away from your goal before you even try.
Launch your goal with the highest chance of success by making it positive in the language you use and the emotion behind it. You need to craft the story out in your mind in a way that hits at the core. Your old brain and mid brain (the unconscious parts of the brain) are going to be pushing this goal forward so give them what they need – a clear map of the goal and the emotion fueling this goal.
“Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture.” – Norman Vincent Peale
Science Secret #3 – Focus on the steps to achieve your goal not the end result
Start by asking yourself each day what you can do as a step to help you achieve your goal. Even if it is a tiny step there is still forward momentum towards achieving your goal. Taking that time to define a daily step keeps your brain focused and helps you continually define the path to your goal.
As an extra advantage, you multiply the type of reward feeling in your brain. You get a small reward boost from making a step forward each day and you further reinforce this positive new image of yourself as tenacious and focused. Even better, people who set and reach these mini-goals define themselves as happier people in comparison to people that have set only one huge goal for themselves.
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Dr. Frank Murtha accurately describes it as the goal being the destination but the defined steps are the motor that will take you there. Once you start moving forward each day, your sense of accomplishment and productivity increases which makes the goal feel attainable. Igniting within yourself the belief you can achieve your goal is powerful and in itself becomes a rewarding emotion.
“The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a foot long enough to enable you to put the other somewhat higher.” — Thomas Henry Huxley
Science Secret #4 – Give your brain 10 mindful minutes each day
Neuroscience has shown that prayer and meditation can create physical changes in the brain. These changes are associated with our ability to focus, to manage stress and self-control. All key factors when it comes to setting and achieving your goals.
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Even the thought of setting aside complete downtime can be stressful for business owners. We feel like we need to be on the go from the minute we roll out of bed until we fall asleep again at the end of the day.
Our personal health and time for personal reflection are the first things to go. The risk of not setting aside this daily time is even greater. Goals become lost in the shuffle of day to day activities like answering emails, putting out business fires and being active on social media.
Dr. Andrew Newberg summed up this area of neuroscience perfectly. “The more you focus on something the more that becomes your reality. The more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain.”
Some experts advise trying to keep your mind blank or at least try not to control your thoughts. Others suggest visualizing your goal and immersing yourself in the emotion guiding you. There is no right choice. You need to take that time to focus on what works for you. What is important is carving out those minutes for yourself each day.
Take ten minutes today to watch this video on why this daily mindfulness practice is good for your brain, good for your health and a solid foundation to achieving your goals.
“We can’t change every little thing that happens to us in life, but we can change the way that we experience it.” – Andy Puddicombe
Science Secret #5 – Do not equate minor setbacks with failure to achieve your goal
When we hit a minor setback we tend to retreat altogether from a goal and newly define it as “impossible” or decide “I can’t do this”. Prepare your brain, walk yourself through the possible obstacles and failures that can occur as you work towards your goal. You can train your brain to stay calm and stay focused on the positive. Focused on the map of daily steps you have defined that take you towards your goal.
The more you condition your brain responses the less impact these setbacks will have when they happen. Be prepared, setbacks will happen as you work towards your goal but the difference now is you see them as minor obstacles and not failures. You don’t need to wallow in guilt or self-doubt. You have already prepared yourself for some of these worse case scenarios and your brain has a plan of attack.
To be tested is good.
The challenged life may be the best therapist. -Gail Sheehy
Today is the last day of Q1 for 2016. If you need a date to effectively launch your new science-based goal setting strategy, let it be now. Take those 10 mindful minutes each day to do what is most meaningful to you – pray, meditate or sit quietly. Whatever works best for you, go for it! Now add a healthy brain diet to the mix. Feed the part of you that drives your creativity and passion more than just coffee and empty calories.
Science secrets show you how to treat your brain like the super star that it is. Now set aside the time to start to write your own story with a goal that is meaningful to you.
Each day take a step, no matter how small, towards meeting your goal. People that define and reach their daily step toward their goals are happier which is good for your family, friends, business and, most importantly, good for you. You will be at your best when you are taking care of yourself.
If you have some techniques that you use and find effective for staying on track share them with us. We love to receive your feedback and comments so keep them coming.
Jennifer Arnold, Founder at InnovaMap, Ph.D. in Neuroscience
InnovaMap – we use the science of marketing to connect you with your target audience.
Contact us to learn more on how to start integrating techniques for engaging the brain into all your marketing strategies.