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Keep a Diary of Your Achievements to Stay on Course in 2012

Keep a Diary of Your Achievements to Stay on Course in 2012

    So, the New Year is upon us and you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in 2012. You’ve written your goals, made your plans and to-do lists, and you’re ready to go; marching onwards to success armed with an unwavering sense of motivation and some useful productivity tools.

    Once you’ve started, it’s important to ensure that you remain on course and the actions you take on a day-to-day basis are steering you towards to the ‘Promised Land’ known as Success.Writing down your achievements at the end of the day, rather than just crossing them off a to-do list as you go along has more benefits than you might think.

    How to record your achievements

    There are a number of ways you could do this; keeping a blog or paper journal , using a whiteboard of maybe a productivity app.

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    Alternatively, try using a week-to-view desk diary.

    Why use a diary?

    You easily glance over a week’s achievements and review your progress (more of which later).

    More importantly, using a week-to-view, you’ll find that you only have a few lines per day to note down your key achievements, which helps you to focus only on the things that really matter.

    What to do

    To start, take the first page of your diary or inside cover and list your goals so you’ll be able to quickly refer to them whenever you need a reminder of what you’re trying to achieve.

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    If you’re breaking these big goals down into weekly goals, you could write these across the top of each week in your diary.

    What to record

    Whatever your goals for the year, only record the tasks you’ve done that relate specifically to those goals. My main goals this year include running a marathon and writing at least 300,000 words.

    Each day I note how long I trained for, how many words I wrote and what I wrote them for (Lifehack or a blog post for example), along with anything else that supports those goals such as researching diet plans or brainstorming article ideas.

    What not to record

    You probably get through a lot of stuff during the course of an average day, but the idea of this exercise is to look at how much of that stuff is contributing to your goals. If you haven’t done much towards your goals, you may be tempted to fill your diary with other busy work to convince yourself that you’ve at least been productive.

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    Don’t, it doesn’t help.

    You may feel really proud that you spent all day cleaning your house from top-to-bottom and having a really good de-clutter, but unless one of your goals is to win the “Tidiest House in the World 2012 Award,” again, don’t put it down.

    What’s next?

    At the end of each week it pays to look back through your diary and review your progress. It’s always nice to look back and see that you’ve had a productive week working towards your goals, but your review should help you find room for improvement.

    If you haven’t written anything for a specific goal in a couple of days, is that a sign that maybe you need to work extra hard on that goal? Or maybe that goal wasn’t as important to you as you first thought and it’s time to reassess? If you notice that you haven’t been doing much goal-orientated work on a specific day each week, can you identify reasons for that and do something about it? If you’ve been cruising along nicely but haven’t seen much improvement, is now the time to think about taking things to the next level? Perhaps your training sessions for the last three weeks all ran to 30 minutes. Can you now maybe do 45 minutes?

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    If everything’s been going perfectly and you’ve been recording great progress with continual improvement, you can give yourself a firm pat on the back knowing that you’re well on course for great success in 2012.

    (Photo credit: Male hand drawing a chart via Shutterstock)

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    Chris Skoyles

    Coach, and trainee counsellor specializing in mental health and addiction.

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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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