Science and goal setting

scientists goals

As we approach the end of January, take a second to think about your New Year’s Resolutions. Are they going well? Are you still working on them, or has the excitement started to dwindle? If it has, don’t worry because that is common, but we can work on getting the fire started again!

Let’s consider a few words from some pretty great scientists. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. Do you make a resolution each year, some vague goal you hide away in your head on New Year’s Eve? Then before January is up you have nearly forgotten your goal or realized you stopped thinking about it? That happens to so many people each year, so why do we think we can keep setting intentions the same way and expect to actually accomplish them?

But don’t throw in the towel just yet. Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Don’t give up on your resolutions and goals just because you haven’t managed to stick with them in the past or because you aren’t successful just yet.

According to a study from researchers at MIT, your brain rewards you as you approach your goals. The neurotransmitter dopamine has previously been linked to rewards as unexpected rewards cause bursts of activity in dopamine neurons. Unexpectedly, the levels of dopamine increased as the goal was approached. In addition, when the level of the expected reward was increased, so was the level of released dopamine. As the path to the goal was increased, the dopamine levels ramped more slowly as if the brain was preparing itself for the longer journey to reach the goal.

So what does this mean for goal setting? Well in order for your brain to reward you as you reach your goals, you need to stop making vague goals and start making well-defined goals. You can create well-defined goals by using the S.M.A.R.T. method.

smart goals[source]

You should make your goals very specific and measureable. Instead of saying, “I want to lose weight” turn your goal into a measureable, realistic amount, with a specific time-frame. “I want to lose 20 pounds by June 1st”. Instead of setting a goal to save more money this year, decide that you want to save $1,200 by December 31st, so you will set aside $100 dollars each month. When you have a deadline and specific measurable goals, your brain can judge how far you are from reaching your goals and reward you accordingly.

I know that sometimes big goals can seem daunting or so far away they seem unreachable, but rest assured that each time you take a step closer to your goals, your brain is physically rewarding you. Even better, break down each goal into smaller more manageable goals so you have more accomplishments you can check off your list. Want to lose 20 pounds by June 1st, aim to lose 5 pounds each month, which is just over one pound a week. One pound at a time seems much less daunting than 20. If you want to save $1,200 this year, set aside $100 each month. That is roughly $20 a week. Maybe you make coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks each day.

My challenge for you is to think about your New Year’s Resolutions or come up with some new goals for those big dreams that you have and turn these into S.M.A.R.T. goals.  I believe you can accomplish great things!

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