When a goal becomes elusive, tap into something greater

Why our brains tend to resist goals, and how we can keep them alive.

Got Goals? Eh…

We always hear a lot about goals and resolutions around the new year. Maybe you’ve set some for yourself for 2017. Maybe you’ve already broken a resolution or lost your momentum towards your goal.

Why are goals relatively easy to set but so darned hard to reach?

What’s our problem with goals?

The goal-setting challenge

Goals are certainly important to achieving progress. We coaches use them all the time.

But the challenge with goal-setting is that our brains tend to resist big changes. And achieving goals is really about changing our habits.

It goes something like this: should I sit down at the computer at 8pm to work on that article I want to publish? Or should I watch that t.v. show I like to watch? Hmm… I’m pretty tired, and I can start the paper tomorrow.

And with a click of the remote, it’s over – until the next night starts the same battle of comfortable habit versus new action toward a goal.

Slowly, over time, the goal can easily become a distant memory.

This is your brain on goals

Given how our brains work, it makes sense that many people find it hard to break habits and create new ones.

First, parts of the brain are already wired to seek reward over pain, and safety over fear and uncertainty. Our very survival depended on it.

Second, we – and our brains – are creatures of habit. Our thoughts and actions tend to take the path of least resistance, which are the well-worn paths that they’ve taken for a long time.

Each time we act or think, the neural pathways associated with that action or thought are followed. The more a neural pathway is used, the more familiar it becomes and the less the brain has to work, until over time, an action or thought becomes habitual or automatic.

It’s like when you’re driving and miss a turn or exit because you weren’t paying attention and simply went your usual route out of habit. You were on autopilot.

In order to take ourselves off autopilot, or to change our neural pathways, we need to pay greater attention, think differently, and try harder.

In essence, we need to choose the tougher road in order to create new neural pathways to support our goals.

The diamond nugget (or when all else fails)

Are we doomed to repeat our habits? What can we do?

We need to take this news about habits and our brain, and make it work for us. My daughter gave me a great example of this when she said before Christmas that if Santa brought her coal, she would grind it down until it became a diamond.

First, everyone is capable of change. Everyone’s brain is plastic, which means that it’s capable of rewiring to support new habits and goals.

So let’s take our goals that might fail, or have already failed, dust them off and rework them.

While there are lots of tips and strategies we coaches have for maintaining goals, today I’m going to grind them into this one nugget:

Link your goal to a larger purpose. 

This can be done by asking one simple question: why do you want to achieve that goal?

Often, you need to ask the question several times to dig deeper. The point is to identify a larger purpose that is really meaningful.

If you want to make more money or get promoted, for example, get to the heart of why you want more money. Do you want more freedom, more respect, more adventure, or to be a better provider?

Recognizing the greater meaning behind your goal will evoke more emotion than the goal itself, and this means that your brain, and you, will pay more attention to it. When positive emotions are involved, you are more likely to hold a goal in the forefront of your mind, and to work harder toward the outcome associated with it.

So find the larger purpose and keep going back to that when you’re trying to create new habits. Then, when the choice is between an old habit and a new meaningful inspiration, the decision becomes easier.

What are your goals for this year?

If you’ve got some great goals, share them in the box below. And if you’d really like to get moving on them, and to learn about neuroscience as you change your habits and your brain, contact me for a free consultation.

Photo by Glen Carrie at unsplash.com. 

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