“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle
You are in a slump and decide you need to make some changes in your life. You decide that the time has come to really solidify your life goals and create some new habits in order to reach them. You realize that you are master of your own destiny and only you can change your life by changing your habits. Knowing you need new habits and creating them, however, is not always easy. The good news is that once established, your new habits will become automatic and you won’t have to think about them anymore. Your new habits will become your regular habits and will become part of your daily life. The following tips will get you started on your habit changing journey.Advertising
1. Start with one or two.
Focus on just one or two of your most important goals to work on in the beginning. In starting with just a few goals at first, you are less likely to become overwhelmed, disillusioned and possibly give up altogether.
2. Create smaller, manageable goals.
Rather than setting large, seemingly insurmountable goals, start with bite-sized, more manageable ones. If you want to lose 25 pounds, start with a goal of just 5. Build on the success of your smaller achievements.Advertising
3. Be accountable.
Buy a journal to list out your goals and write out measurable steps you need to take to achieve them. Keeping a journal holds you accountable over time. Keeping a journal also provides a clear written record of your progress and success, keeping you inspired as you go. You may see a pattern for obstacles you encounter and find ways to deal with them to ensure you don’t give up.
4. Plan ahead.
If working out consistently is one of your goals, join a gym close to your house or on your route home from work. Keep your packed gym bag in the car. If you tend to snack at the vending machine during the day, bring fruits and veggies to work so you have healthier options to turn to when you feel hunger pains. The more pre-planning you do and fewer excuses you have, the more likely it is you will follow through with your plan.Advertising
5. Replace old with new.
In order to circumvent the automation of your regular habit, consider replacing that habit with something entirely new. Instead of meeting for happy hour with the girls after work, talk them into taking an art or cooking class together. You will break up your regular routine, learn something new and create interesting memorable bonding experiences.
6. Reward your success.
Acknowledge your successes with something that is valuable and enjoyable to you. Put this reward on the calendar. If your goal is to run 3 days a week, schedule a reward, like a massage, for the end of the month when you have achieved your goal.Advertising
7. Get support from a buddy.
There truly is strength in numbers. If you have to be accountable to another person, you are much more likely to stick with your goal setting plan. Working on goals with a buddy also makes the experience more fun and enjoyable.
8. Give yourself some slack.
Habits are hard to change. If you slip up, forgive yourself and continue moving forward. Get up the next day and try again. Not giving up is truly the key to your overall success. Trust in yourself and don’t give up. If it’s meaningful to you, it’s worth your continued effort. Creating new habits will move you closer to achieving your life goals and is always worth the effort.
Last Updated on July 17, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
More About Goals Setting
- How to Set Goals and Achieve Them Successfully
- How to Set SMART Goal to Make Lasting Changes in Life
- How Setting Personal Goals Makes You a Greater Achiever
Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com
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