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This Is What Will Happen When You Set Ambitious And Realistic Goals

This Is What Will Happen When You Set Ambitious And Realistic Goals

What’s the secret to success?

Well, if you’re looking for a shortcut, you’re out of luck, because nothing beats hard work and dedication. But there is one strategy that just about every high achiever has in common: they have mastered the art of setting and achieving goals on a continual basis.

It’s a skill that you would do well to learn, too, because mapping your course to success can pay immediate dividends. In particular, here is what will happen when you set ambitious and realistic goals …

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1. You’ll Become More Focused.

When you establish clear goals and review them on a regular basis, they become a very real part of your day. Having a defined target allows you to just work toward that endpoint without the nagging doubts that can plague you when you aren’t sure where you are headed.

It may take some practice, but you will eventually be able to zone in on your goal when you need to. Don’t be surprised if you look up from your work one day to find several hours have passed since you last took a break.

2. You’ll Get More Done.

When you turn that kind of laser focus to tasks that you know will lead to your ultimate success, you can’t help but get more done than you would if you’re watching the clock all day long. One day will flow into the next, and your goals will start to fall at a faster and faster pace.

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Soon, what may have seemed like an unscalable summit will be in your rear view and you’ll be ready for something even more ambitious.

3. You’ll Know What to Do Next.

Maybe the most powerful immediate benefit of strong goals is that they remove doubt from your day. By starting with a target that you know is attainable, you also establish a clear path for how to get there. You also learn more about yourself and how to plan your course, so by the time you’re ready for something more lofty, you will also have a great idea of what steps will be required to get to that next level.

4. You’ll Be More Confident.

Nothing breeds confidence like knowing that you can knock down whatever targets you set for yourself. After you reach a few progressively more ambitious goals, you will feel more sure about tackling whatever obstacles lie ahead of you.

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5. You’ll Have People Asking for Advice.

People who succeed to almost any extent in any endeavor become instant role models for those trying to climb the same mountains. As you begin to achieve even modest success in meeting your goals, especially ones that are visible in your business and social circles, you can expect others to ask you how did it. You may not feel like an expert early on, but your accomplishments will make your advice valuable.

6. You’ll Wake Up with Energy.

Working toward a goal that is important to you is one of the most energizing experiences you can have. You will find that fresh ideas pop into your head all throughout the day, and you will be eager to apply those to the work you’re doing. Likewise, you will wake up ready to dig back in to your game plan for success, and that dread of workday mornings will start to fade.

7. You Won’t Want to Go to Bed.

Once you become really involved in the process of goal-setting and achievement, you might find it hard to “turn off” at the end of each day. Your enthusiasm will keep you bubbling along even as bedtime approaches, and you might discover that late night is a productive time for you. Just be careful not to lose too much sleep in the pursuit of success.

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8. You’ll Be Nicer.

If you’re uncertain about your future and feel like you’re just going through the motions of life, you’re likely to be cranky and short with those around you. Once you start achieving the goals you have set for yourself, you will be more optimistic about the future and less likely to lash out at others due to your own frustrations. There are plenty of successful people who are direct and even abrasive at times, but not many who are downright unpleasant.

9. You’ll Feel Less Stressed.

When you don’t have a clear direction, you always feel like you’re scrambling just to keep up with the avalanche of daily responsibilities that only seems to grow over time. Setting and meeting your goals will give you an anchor point for the future, with built-in checkpoints to let you know that you are indeed on track. As a result, you can work through your obstacles with more confidence that you are making progress and with less stress about the eventual outcome.

10. You’ll Set More Goals.

When it comes to success, there is never a final destination but just one long, evolving journey. Goals help you move forward and head toward the type of life that you envision having, but that vision will change and expand with each milestone that you pass. Once you achieve one goal, you’ll be hungry for more, and goal-setting will become a vital part of your life.

11. You’ll Be Successful.

Almost by definition, establishing ambitious but attainable goals will set you up for success. The first time you hit one of those targets, you will have succeeded, but more important than that, you will prove to yourself that you can succeed. If you push forward after that first blush of achievement, all of the factors on this list will begin to snowball and allow you to build momentum that can carry over to all aspects of your life.

Featured photo credit: Doha Stadium Plus via flickr.com

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Adam Hughes

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

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. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, 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 may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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