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Don’t Wait for a Breakthrough Moment: Create One!

Don’t Wait for a Breakthrough Moment: Create One!

    Potential and Possibilities

    We’ve all had breakthrough moments in our lives. Moments when a switch flicked, a light went on and a door to a new world of potential and possibilities opened up for us. For most of us, the door was always there to be opened but, for a range of reasons, we never turned the handle. Until that day.

    Ignoring Reality

    Invariably, the switch-flicking and door-opening (the internal shift) was the result of a situation, experience or circumstance that we found ourselves in. And it was usually an unpleasant one. My first big breakthrough moment came after many smaller and less embarrassing, but similar, moments. It’s fair to say I was (am) a slow learner. The lessons, the signs and the indicators (to change, to listen, to pay attention) were all there for me, but for the longest time I did my best to ignore them. I never allowed reality to get in the way of the stories I told myself.

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    And what stories I told.

    One of my favourites was the “it doesn’t matter that you weigh more than your teachers and you’re only fourteen” fairytale. I fooled not only my friends but also myself.

    Or so I thought.

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    The Beginning of the End

    For me, the beginning of the end (of my fat, unhappy self) came at a school swimming carnival when I found myself standing on a starting block at the end of a pool next to seven other kids who weighed as much as my breakfast. It was the painful reality check I needed but clearly, didn’t want. It’s hard to hide 90kgs (200lbs) of teenage lard when you’re semi-naked and perched on a block of concrete with hundreds of people staring at you. Humiliation would have been a pleasant improvement on what I felt in that moment.

    Transformational Pain

    Although that experience was a painful one for me, it was also something that led me to make decisions and embrace behaviours which transformed my life (on many levels), and I believe, changed the course of my destiny. If I hadn’t experienced that feeling, I don’t think I would be the person I am today. I am grateful for that experience because it forced me to step into reality, to acknowledge who and what I was, and to take charge of my mind, my body and my life. And yes, it happened in that order (mind, body, life).

    Even though I had that revelation at a relatively young age (fourteen), I often look back and realise that I always had the potential to create incredible and lasting change. Over the last thirty (or so) years I have consciously and diligently worked to make the decisions, changes and adjustments before I found myself standing on that starting block again.

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    So to speak.

    The fit, lean, stronger, happier, more productive and creative (version of) me was always in there; I just needed to let him out.

    I don’t know (most of) you, but if you’re like the majority then I know that you have more ability, potential and possibilities than you have ever imagined. If amazing (and lasting) results are what you’re after then my advice to you is:

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    Don’t wait for a breakthrough moment: create one!

    So, why don’t you choose to make a breakthough this week? Just because you can.

    Tell us about your breakthrough moments (in the past or present) or just say hi and share your thoughts on this post. And yes, that means you Lurkers (non-commentors) too.

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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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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