Following on from last weeks article on how to set goals using proven, science backed protocols. This week we will look at how science can help us to increase the odds of achieving your goals.
Before we focus in on achieving goals we must always remember the purpose of setting goals is not achieving the goals, yet the learning and growth and who you become in the pursuit of achieving the goals.
How do we increase the odds of achieving our goals?
The first step is to ask ourselves the question – Do I want to do the things required to achieve the goal itself? Am i excited to do the tasks or am I feeling resistance?
Why is this question important? Depending on our emotional feeling of motivation to complete the activities required to achieve the goal will determine the protocols that work best for taking action.
If we are excited and motivated to take action then spending 1 to 3 minutes visualising the outcome we are trying to create can really help. When we visualise we want to really “feel” the impact achieving the goal will give us.
For example, let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. And part of the actions is some strength and conditioning training and you have to complete a 45 minute workout. If you wake up excited and ready to do that workout spending 1 to 3 minutes in advance to visualise how you want to feel at the end will help enrich and encourage you to really invest in the workout. Your visualisation should include the feelings of satisfaction, strength, health, vitality etc that will come with completing a tough workout.
What if we don’t feel motivated?
The problem is we don’t always wake up and really feel like doing the action. If we wake up and we have resistance or a lack of drive to do the thing we need to do then what? If we try to visualise the state of feeling after successful completion many of the so-called goal guru’s will tell you this will help you to switch on the positive emotion that will see you push through the lack of motivation.
The reality is however, that visualising a positive outcome when you are “not feeling it” actually doesn’t increase our motivation and drive and even if we do the action, we might not fully commit and it is more likely we will skip it today, telling ourselves we will get on it tomorrow.
So instead of visualising a positive outcome in these instances the evidence shows us that spending 1 to 3 minutes focussing on the negative feeling or impact of skipping the action works better. When we are not motivated we can give ourselves the kick needed by reminding ourselves of what failing will feel like. What challenges we will face when we DO NOT make the change that drove us to set the goal in the first place.
I have often used this technique with marathon training. If I am out on a run and not feeling it I often reflect on how I will feel if I can’t complete the marathon and how disappointed I will feel. This gives me the drive to push through and keep going.
The answer is in the eyes…
Another useful tool to help us to commit to actions during goal attainment is by using our focus. Literally choosing to focus on a point in our vision can have a significant impact on our ability to commit to actions.
Our eyes are a powerful system with over 50% of our brain receptors given over to processing visual cues. When we narrow our focus by really looking directly at a single point we increase activation in the parts of the brain that manage the fight / flight reaction. This creates the sense of reduced effort yet increased output. So when tacking goals if we can create a visual cue, something we can use to focus our gaze it can help us to increase activation and our “brains focus” on the task in hand.
This is why distractions can be such a challenge. They take our focus and energy away from the thing. Keeping your work area or the space where you achieve your goals as clear as possible helps.
When we allow our gaze to become more diffused and to widen our focus, this reduces activation and is actually a good way to increase a feeling of rest and recovery following periods of focus.
When is the best time of the day to go goal getting?
Humans are part of nature and like most of nature our energy is dictated by the rising and setting of the sun. As a result our peak times for activation are also driven by these natural cycles.
Research shows us that the human body is most primed for action towards goals getting 30 mins after waking, 3 hours after waking and 11 hours after waking. There will be come difference from person to person but in the main these 3 windows are the best time to plan goal getting activity.
Let’s say you get up at 7am. This means 7.30, 10am and then 6pm are the best times to plan in actions that relate to your goals.
This will give you the best chance of achieving the most progress – however, it’s not a hard and fast rule and just because you can’t complete a task at this time doesn’t mean it is not worth taking the action. However, as a guide if we are scheduling our time these windows are the sweet spot.
What about rewards?
Should you reward yourself for taking action towards your goals? We all know that dopamine is the chemical most associated with the brains reward systems. However dopamine is actually more of an activation chemical than a reward chemical. We know that dopamine is released into the brain in anticipation of a reward, rather than just on receipt of a reward. Dopamine is the thing that drives us to take action – it is what causes cravings for instance.
So how does this play with rewards for taking action towards our goals?
The best protocol is a system of randomised rewarding. Where yes you do offer rewards to yourself for completing a task but not every time. If you reward every small action the desire to take bigger actions actually gets lessened.
So here is the best way to plan rewards. Each time you complete a task towards a goal you gain the chance of a reward. Non completion = no reward. However, using something as simple as a coin or maybe a dice roll can be a great way to randomise the reward. Complete the action, toss a coin, Heads = reward, tails = no reward. Or Complete action and roll a die – score 1 to 4 and get no reward, 5 or 6 and get a reward. You can also alter the level of reward based on the number if you really want to get sophisticated with it.
This randomisation keeps the reward systems working or you and boosting your desire to keep taking actions
What are your best protocols?
So that is the science – what are the ways you best work on achieving your goals? I would love to hear your tips and techniques – drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to share what you do to help you be a goal getter!