Everybody can set goals . . . and most people do. Our brains love goals!
What about you? Do you ever daydream about making a bunch of money doing what you love? Do you have goals for living a joyful, meaningful life with your family and friends by your side?
Goal setting, in fact, was one of the earliest functions of the human nervous system. It helped to trigger movement toward food. Primitive goal-seeking mechanisms were part of our ancestors’ ingrained program . . . and the key to our survival as a species.
But we all need to stop setting goals the old fashioned way and start focusing on the neuroscience of goal achievement instead.
How do we do this?
Your brain is amazing. But it’s also a work-in-progress. Since time immemorial, it’s had two main priorities: safety and efficiency. This is great for most things . . . but may also keep you stuck in the comfort zone.
That's right, your brain’s top priorities may actually discourage you from pursuing your dream of quitting your job and starting your own business . . . or of going BASE jumping in Norway, for example.
Safety first. Our brains have naturally evolved to keep us safe emotionally, physically, and mentally.
Efficiency second. The human brain focuses on energy conservation so it can do more with less. It favors familiar behaviors that require the least amount of effort. This is why it’s so difficult to break habits! This is why it’s so hard to change.
Your brain is programmed to help you survive, but it’s not as concerned with helping you thrive.
Some people do manage to override the brain’s resistance and are able to change their lives for the better. They've learned how to earn more money doing what they love, they get promoted, they have loving and fulfilling relationships, they find true happiness. They thrive.
And so can you.
So how can you reach beyond primitive goal setting and brain function to join the elite group of people that achieve all their wealth, health, and happiness goals?
Keep reading to find out what it takes to retrain your brain for success in all areas of your life.
In this article I discuss:
Ready to get started?
There's one big difference between LOA and GOYA when it comes to goal achievement and it has to do with activating all three of your core neuro-muscles: awareness, intention, and action.
GOYA gets you moving and shaking—into action—so that you can accomplish tasks that’ll get you closer to reaching your goals.
Way back when I was a teenager, I had a mentor named Alan Brown. During our first meeting, he asked me a question that defined the trajectory of my life. He asked me, “John, are you interested in achieving your dreams or are you committed?”
Are you interested or are you committed?
Alan went on to say that if I was only interested . . . I would only do only what was convenient in life and probably continue to struggle with self-doubt . . . and come up with excuses for not being able to reach the top.
But, he said, if I was fully committed to achieving what I wanted for my life, I’d start letting go of the old stories, excuses, and reasons . . . and, instead, do whatever it took each and every day to be successful (i.e., upgrade my knowledge and skills and show up to do the work.)
And after he explained the difference between interest and commitment, I shook his had and said, “Mr. Brown, I’m committed.” Sure I was scared of letting go of all of the reasons why I couldn’t achieve my goals and dreams; sure I was worried about leaving my comfort zone . . . but I’m certainly glad I made the right decision to move in the direction of my dreams.
So ask yourself: Am I just interested in having the life I desire . . . or am I fully committed to having it all in this lifetime?
If your answer is fully committed, keep reading . . . It’s time to develop a plan for your success.
As you set out on your journey toward goal achievement, it’s important to focus on progress over perfection. When you focus on progress, you just keep making incremental gains every day, every week, every month, every quarter . . . And even when you have to move backward a couple of steps, you can still see the progress you’ve made by how much you’ve learned.
I was taught that failure is an opportunity to learn. I was also taught to disassociate myself “being a failure” from failing.
All successful people have failed along the way. We can learn so much from our setbacks. Here’s an affirmation for you to remember: I win or I learn, but I never fail.
We’re all wired to NOT want to change. This is why it takes time to build new, empowering habits.
But you can create new beliefs and habits with repetition, emotion, and consistency. Initially, it's really hard . . . so you have to use conscious, daily effort to create new beliefs. If you do so for 30 days, 60, 90—180 days, the new pattern that you're focusing on and paying attention to will emerge.
The latest research shows that to develop, you know, a new pattern takes between 66 days and 365 days. At this point, your brain basically says, “Well, I guess you really don't need those old patterns.” Repetition helps you to activate new neural pathways for success. This is how you get your new belief system to stick.
When I was in my late teens, I wanted to understand how creative visualization actually worked. I really wanted someone to explain it to me. If I was going to invest my time in it, I wanted answers. After digging and researching, I landed on the science of it, specifically the neuroscience of why visualization and emotionalization work.
Here’s the deal. Both have to do with circuits in the brain and neurochemicals that are released. And so when we feel something, chances are there we're gonna release dopamine in the brain, the feel good neurochemical that activates the reward center of the brain.
And chances are if we feel that, and we have this positive emotion around it, and that neurochemistry is flooding our brain and our body with feel-good chemicals, we're actually activating the motivational center of the brain. And so when we visualize when we set a goal when we take an action step when we emotionalize when we read our goals, the initial flood of neurochemicals, dopamine, serotonin feel-good chemicals.
And then if we share it with a friend, oxytocin, those three neurochemicals, those are the neurochemicals of goal achievement.
We use this term most often to mean self-awareness—your ability to monitor your own mental, emotional, and physical state. Awareness is critical because it allows you to observe your habitual patterns and make changes.
Think of the last time you said something you regretted. Perhaps you spoke in anger to your best friend. Maybe you said something unkind to a family member. It happens. We all do it, so before you beat yourself up about it, realize that you can catch yourself before you react.
For example, you may fall back on the old habit of being sarcastic if you feel insecure with a group of people . . . You may lash out verbally at your beloved when you’ve had a stressful day at work. Or maybe you’ll feel the need to criticize others to disguise your lack of self-confidence during a networking event.
Regardless, as soon as you feel uncomfortable, jealous, angry, hurt, or threatened, your subconscious brain reacts with an automatics program to help relieve the tension. This is what humans do! But what if you could be more thoughtful in general—before you react impulsively?
You can! You can learn to become aware of the trigger that sent you into your subconscious automatic reactions and get calm enough to consciously respond.
Intention is the magic ingredient for the life you want. As you build awareness you build choice.
Intention refers to deciding how you want to think, feel, and act. Like awareness, intention is part of the neural circuitry that activates the prefrontal cortex, the home of your inner genius.
Intention opens up a whole new world for you through self-reflective questions such as:
When you begin to realize that your thoughts, feelings, and actions can be choices, you can intentionally choose to move forward in a way that aligns with how you want to feel, behave, and respond.
Alan Brown, my first mentor who helped me understand the distinction between being interested and being committed was also the first person to teach me that deciding exactly what I wanted to attract into my life and practicing daily visualization with emotion was only half of the journey to success. He taught me that I was going to reach the finish line, I had to take direct, focused action every day.
Action is all about executing new ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. And taking healthy, consistent, constructive action is one of the best ways to build your brain fitness. When you take the right steps in the right order at the right time, you increase your chance of success.
But whether you succeed or fail, the action will strengthen your brain via the learning process. Remember: I win or I learn, but I never fail.
Goal achievement requires time and repetition so keep building your awareness, intention, and action neuro-muscles to create new brain pathways for thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Once you try this approach to goal achievement, leave a comment below and let us know if it works for you.
John Assaraf is one of the leading mindset and behavioral experts in the world, with a unique ability to help people release mental and emotional blocks that keep them from achieving their life’s biggest goals and dreams. He's written 2 New York Times Bestselling books, appeared on Larry King, and was featured in 8 movies, including "Quest For Success" with Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama. Now, he is the CEO of NeuroGym, a company dedicated to using the most advanced neuroscience-based training to help individuals and maximize their fullest potential.
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