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Do You Want 2008 to Be Your Best Year Ever? Let Go.

Do You Want 2008 to Be Your Best Year Ever? Let Go.

Try making a single change in your outlook
Having a ball!

Regular readers will know that I am not much attracted to the type of article that can be summarized as “x simple ways to do y.” I distrust overly simple responses to life’s endless complexity, just as I distrust simplistic ways of thinking.

However, I can think of one — just one — simple action that will make 2008 perhaps one of your best years ever.

This one action is so far-reaching in terms of creating well-being that I felt I had to overcome my distaste for the format and share it with you.

It can be summed up in two words: “let go.”

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Let go of the past

It’s over and done. Whether you relish or hate what you did back then, nothing can change it. Worrying about it is useless; replaying it over and over in your mind merely prolongs the emotions to no purpose.

All that will happen is that those feelings will reach forward and poison the present and the future. People caught up on past obsessions are unable to respond to what is happening now; they’re too busy revisiting and trying to revise what happened then.

Let go of guilt

Guilt is a totally useless emotion. All it does is make you feel bad and tempt you into ill-chosen actions to try to drive it away. Feel remorse by all means, since remorse leads to resolution not to repeat past errors. But guilt? That’s merely a negative kind of self-indulgence, focused totally on yourself, not those who suffered from your mistake or bad actions.

Let go of resentment

Nothing corrodes your happiness, your relationships, or your ability to act sensibly as easily as resentment. So someone hurt you? Let it go and focus instead on what you are going to do either to make things right between you or walk away and make sure that person won’t hurt you again.

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Resentment is like guilt: it’s all about you and your own self-righteousness. It tricks you into replaying that past hurt over and over again in your mind, as you keep the resentment alive. The single hurt then becomes a constant repetition. If you fell down and cut your leg, would you keep doing it, just to recall how much it hurt? That’s resentment: a continual, needless reminder of how much it hurt.

Let go of revenge

There’s an old saying that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. In truth, revenge is a dish best thrown away.

Was getting even part of your original dreams of how your life would turn out? Did you sit day-dreaming, maybe years ago, and envision a golden future filled with revenge on anyone?

All revenge does is reinforce the original hurt, create another enemy, warp your judgment, and take your focus away from where it should be: on doing what it will take to fulfill your dreams. Oh . . . and often create a long-lasting vendetta, that will pull you into worse and worse actions, until you likely hate yourself and suddenly notice that all the time you have been getting further away from where you really wanted to be.

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Let go of joy

This may sound foolish, but think about it. How many times have you devoted enormous effort to trying to recapture some moment of joy, only to find it impossible? How much effort have you wasted on trying to reproduce some past moment of happiness?

Joy is a beautiful butterfly. It floats into your life, filling it with beauty. But if you grab at it and try to hang on, it gets crushed and dies, leaving little behind but a rotting corpse.

Many of life’s miseries are due to trying to cling to something good; to prolong a moment of joy long past it’s due time, instead of letting it go and looking for another one.

Let it go. That way, you’ll never poison it with your vain attempts to revive it.

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A single resolution

That’s it: my suggested recipe for a great 2008. Make it a year of letting go and moving on. No regrets, no guilt, no resentment, no revenge, no pointless clinging to the good moments.

Breathe. Let it go.

Life is motion and it’s better to go along with it, unfettered by the past, that try to fight against it and drag a whole lot of useless baggage along with you.

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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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