Mettle 1. n. courage, fortitude, pluck, ardor, verve. 2. on one’s mettle, in the position of being ready to do one’s best.
Metal and mettle both rust if neglected. They lose their shine. They become tarnished and weakened. People who have lost their mettle no longer have sufficient courage or enthusiasm to take on the world and rise above the challenges it brings them. They become dull, apathetic, ready to accept second or even third best.
How can you see whether this is starting to happen to you? Here’s how to make a brief audit of the state of your mettle: a way to inquire into the health of your inner spark, the part of you that can transform your life and outlook—if only it still has enough strength to do so.Advertising
1) Do your actions match your values? A sure sign of inner corrosion is when you are ready to betray your personal convictions in the name of expediency.
Everyone has to make compromises from time to time, but some values are too important to sidestep for the sake of fitting in, making money, or having a quiet life. No one was ever moved to do their best, or overcome a challenge, by compromise or taking the easy way out. Only ideals inspire. Lose those ideals and you lose most of what makes you who you are. You become an obedient robot.
If you realize that you’ve given up on things that really matter to you—that compromise and accommodation have become habitual—ask yourself this the next time you look in the mirror: Can you still respect the person you’ve become? If not, it’s time to change. Those values and ideals are still within you, waiting to inspire you again.
2) Are you wasting time on goals and activities you really care little about? You have this one life, this one chance to live in a way that will make you feel proud, win or lose. Every moment spent on some activity that means next to nothing to you is a moment you could have allocated to living your dreams.Advertising
Take a good look at your life. Is it what you want? Is it going in a direction that you believe is important? When you are old, will you recall this time with pleasure—or with sadness and amazement that you could have wasted so much time for so little that truly mattered?
While you still have the time, stop and review what you are doing. If necessary, reverse course. Do it now. Your hopes and dreams are too important to throw away through neglect or fearfulness. Time spent on activities that you don’t value is time stolen from your life.
3) Does your life add energy to this world or suck it away? Are the people you interact with enlivened by having you around? Or are you an energy sink: a presence that draws energy and liveliness out of everything, leaving it grayer and duller as you pass along?Advertising
People who are truly on their mettle—people who spread enthusiasm, fun, excitement, and ardor for life—pass through this world leaving everyone that they meet feeling just a little better, brighter, more energized as a result.
Any internal tarnish doesn’t affect just you. It lowers the spirit of everyone who must deal with you. Have you ever been served a meal by a waiter who was miserable, glum, surly, or apathetic? The kind of person whose mere presence robbed the food of some of its taste? And have you even encountered the opposite: a waitress clearly enjoying her job, lively, enthusiastic, ready with a big smile and an infectious cheerfulness?
Which one are you? Which do you want to be? What will it take to bring back the smile to your face and the spring to your step?Advertising
You can let life’s problems and cruelties rob you of your mettle, your shine; or you can devote time regularly to polishing away the smears and stains, so that your courage and enthusiasm to live life as you believe it should be lived can shine through again.
You can only find happiness and satisfaction by starting with the life you have today. No one can do this for you; each person must find his or her own way. If what you have is dirtied and dulled, that’s still where you must start from—right here, right now. Until you clean yourself and restore your mettle, your spirit and ardor, you’ll either stay in your present position or decline still further.
Life is good only when you make it so. That’s a task for which all of us truly need to be on our mettle.
Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to save yourself from being hooked again and Binocular vision. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization
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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