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Becoming Your Best Self

Becoming Your Best Self

    If I asked you were it possible for you to get into the best shape of your life, we could agree that it is.  If I asked you were it possible for you to become smarter than you’ve ever been, I think we could agree that you could work hard, study, learn, and practice more than you ever had.  But strangely, the idea of becoming the “perfect version” of ourselves seems so unobtainable.  It seems impossible.

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    But it isn’t.  It just requires you to work harder and more diligently than you ever have before.  Is it worth it?  Just ask yourself this.  Would you like to be the smartest, best looking, fittest, funniest, best dressed, most compassionate, loving person you’ve ever been?  Would you like to be your own definition of the perfect person?

    If, like me, you answered yes, then  you’ve taken the first step to becoming your best self.  The journey is long, the obstacles hard.  The plan, though, is simple.  Define, plan, execute, redefine, plan again, execute again, etc.  Let’s go over the plan in a little more detail.

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    Plan – think about your perfect self.  What does he or she look like?  How does he speak?  How does he think?  How does he eat?  How does he interact with others?  What do people think of him?  What is he capable of, that you aren’t? Define your perfect self in adjectives that are measurable and obtainable.  Things like “he is lean and strong, with a low body fat percentage and a good amount of visible muscle,” or “she speaks well, avoids idle conversation, and is listened to and respected by all of those that she communicates with.”

    Take those descriptions and plan out how long it would take for you to achieve each and every one of them.  For instance “if I am at 17% body fat, and I can lose 1 lb per week, it will take me 20 weeks to get to my goal body fat percentage,” or “I speak often without thinking about what I’m saying.  This lends to people not caring about my thoughts or respecting my opinions.  I need to spend the next 3 months focusing on my idle talk.”
    Then implement a “snowball method” towards becoming your perfect self.  Start with the shortest timed goals.  “I will floss every day” will only take about a week or two to perfect, whereas “I will be able to run a marathon” might take much longer.  As soon as you’ve made a description habit, move to the next one (while continuing the first, of course).  With each habit you introduce into your newly constructed lifestyle, you will be 1 step closer to your perfect self.  You will also gain momentum with each goal, which will motivate you towards the next goal.  By the time you reach the goals that could take months or even years to implement, you’ll be so full of new skills and motivation that you’ll tackle them with no problem.

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    Remember that each of your goals should have purpose.  You may found as I have that a couple of months (or years) down the line that a certain goal of yours no longer suits your best interest.  Maybe there is no good purpose for being 10% body fat, but instead you find it important to have functional strength and cardiovascular stamina.  In this case you would align your plan to fit your new goals.  Instead of focusing on body fat percentage, you would plan workouts that focused on increasing strength and stamina.

    With the victory of each goal implemented into your lifestyle you’ll be one step closer to becoming your vision of your perfect self.  Each victory will mark a decision you made and plan that you carried out, work that you did to make yourself better.  You’ll feel better about yourself with each victory, and with the learning of each new skill or the discipline of each new focus, you’ll find it that much easier to move to the next goal.

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    It’s a long journey to the top of the mountain, but it’s completely obtainable, and totally worth the effort.  Start climbing today, and you’ll be well on your way before you even start feeling the pain.  Good luck, and I’ll see you at the top!

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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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