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If You Invest In Yourself With These 4 Steps, You Can Achieve Much More In Life

If You Invest In Yourself With These 4 Steps, You Can Achieve Much More In Life

There comes a time in life when we want to improve ourselves and invest in our self-development. Perhaps you’ve reached a crossroads in your career, looking for love or arrived at a point where you want to start making serious changes. You may have gone as far as to read numerous self-help books in the hope that a new perspective or approach will give you the magic formula for improving your life.

Sometimes you can get lost in the vast sea of information or the advice you seem to find just doesn’t resonate with you. Wouldn’t it be simple to just have a useable framework that can set your self-investment goals into motion and keep the momentum going? Here’s a four-step process that will do just that:

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1. Create A List of 100 Things

Find a quiet spot and think about all the things you’d like to achieve in life no matter how big or small. These could include losing a certain amount of weight, writing a novel, attending a cooking class, or learning a language. Keep going until you have 100 things on your list, then categorise them into three parts: things I need skills for, things I can do straight away and things I need time for.

The point of this exercise is to get you thinking about what you would really love to do – take your time, walk away and come back to it, let your inspiration take over. Having this list will help you establish different ways to expand, grow and achieve self-development.

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2. Be Honest About Your Skills And Create A Chart

This bit can be met with a bit of resistance, but being honest about the skills we have, and more importantly, the skills we don’t have can go a long way in achieving our long-term growth and self-investment.

You may need to acquire some new skills to achieve some of the items on your list in which case making a chart or spreadsheet can help identify these more easily. Make a list of what you need to learn and create columns for research, action and progress. What research do you need to do to gain these skills? Find courses you could sign up for or potential books you could buy. Next, in the action column write down every single step you’d need to take to reach the goal of gaining the skill. The progress column will mark how near you are to achieving each step.

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3. Take Some Immediate Action

The point of this step is to create motivation. We all love the feeling of ticking off a to-do list and by acting on the things on your list that can be done today, tomorrow, this week or this month will start off the momentum of that achievement feeling.

By doing this, your list is going to look a whole lot less intimidating – book that cooking class, start jogging, swimming or any exercise regime for your weight loss goal. These small steps can gain big rewards for our mindset moving forward so start planning and researching ways to achieve them and give them deadlines.

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4. Put Aside Time For The Long-Term Goals

We all know how easy it is to procrastinate and get distracted, but take some time to streamline your routines. Keep an eye on your procrastination habits throughout the day especially during morning and early evening. Carve out specific time when you can concentrate on your goals – create a timetable if needed. All this can help you keep on track, especially for your long-term goals.

Of course, your list of 100 things to achieve may change slightly over time, but if you only accomplish 4 things a year you will have worked through the entire list over 25 years and lived a life where you can say you achieved a huge amount of your goals and dreams.

Featured photo credit: Start Up Stock Pics via pexels.com

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Jenny Marchal

A passionate writer who loves sharing about positive psychology.

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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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