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Don’t Go Into The New Year If You Haven’t Done These Things

Don’t Go Into The New Year If You Haven’t Done These Things

As we near the end of the year, we enter into the time where people take stock of the year that has passed and begin to plan ways they can improve in the year to come. Most people make New Year’s resolutions, but these aspirations fizzle and fade anywhere between three weeks and three months. Well now you can do something different! Through these 10 practical tips, you can develop positive habits that will enable you to stay focused and persevere, allowing you to accomplish any goal you set.

Create a daily ritual

Your ritual is the foundation of your quest to stay focused. There are no people with a high level of focus who do not purposefully follow a daily routine. It is in following the sleeping patterns you set, establishing when you eat, setting when you have personal time and when you take breaks that you maximize your effort in working towards your goals.

Set 1-2 BIG goals for the year

Setting BIG goals gives you a finish line to run towards, enabling you to ensure that all your daily actions ladder up to these goals in some way. It also allows you to track your progress throughout the year, and evaluate whether or not you have been able to stay focused. Checking on your big goals every 3-4 weeks allows you to effectively measure what you have done, evaluate what needs to be done, and adjust accordingly. This purposeful adjustment will help you stay focused from New Year’s through Christmas.

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Create a vision board

A vision board is a collage of pictures and images that represent your goals and dreams. Adding quotes, relevant articles, and souvenirs that relate to your BIG goals allows you to visualize the end clearly, and reinforces those goals as you see them every day. Having a bad or seemingly unproductive day? Look at your vision board to remind you of what you’re working for.

Set some daily “alone time”

It is extremely important that, in this journey to stay focused and accomplish more in the upcoming year, you allow yourself some time to relax and take a breath. While striving to accomplish everything as soon as possible is admirable, it inevitably results in burnout, which leaves the situation worse than when it began. Spend some time alone reading a book, in meditation, doing yoga, or any other hobby that allows your mind to take a small break and recharge before doing more work.

Complete everything you start

Although simple and straightforward, completing everything you start is still an essential key to help you stay focused.Giving up on a task or procrastinating and pushing back a deadline only serves to weaken your mental resolve, making it even easier to quit or push it off again in the future. Your focus depends as much on determination, perseverance, and resolve as it does on the specifics of the task at hand.

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Make a to-do list

Making a to-do list is a great way to stay focused! It is such a great feeling to cross completed tasks off of a list one by one. Organize your to-do list into categories: things to do today, things to do tomorrow, and things to do this week. You will be more organized knowing what you have to accomplish immediately, soon, and in the near future. This also helps prioritize the important tasks so that you can give your best effort to complete these tasks first.

Multitask less

You may feel that multitasking is a skill because you can accomplish more things at once, but the truth is that your brain is not fully engaged in either task. Instead, devote all of your brainpower to accomplishing one thing at a time, and you will find it much easier to stay focused.

Avoid distractions

Cut the long line of open tabs short. Don’t check Twitter, Facebook, or your email every five minutes. Making sure you take care of the tasks in front of you immediately allows you to finish faster and completely enjoy personal time without worrying. Find quiet environments to work in, and if that isn’t an option, stay focused by listening to calming music or investing in noise-canceling headphones.

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Have “accountabil-a-buddies”

Find people with similar goals, people who will hold you accountable to what you set out to accomplish. They will help to remind you about your goal, spur you to stay focused when you feel unmotivated, and even be sources of new ideas when your mind feels stagnant.

Stay focused on being focused

Don’t be misguided. Focus is inherently simple, but it is difficult too. It takes strategy, dedication, and a commitment to see things through to the end at the cost of all other possibilities. The more rigid you are with your rules of focusing and controlling your habits, the more skilled you will become at it.

As you strive to stay focused for the upcoming year, realize that there will be times when distraction looms and your progress towards your goals is not as rosy as it once seemed. But true focus is found when you can fall in love with the routine and seemingly boring daily practice and not be distracted by the final result or individual event. Let’s start now!

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Are there any other tips or strategies you use to stay focused? Share them below!

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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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