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Why your brain loves goal setting and you should too

14 June 2019 | 6 min read

Seeing through goals doesn’t come naturally to most people – but it can be learned.

If you’re like anyone else, chances are you’ve started, and given up on some goals in your time. Maybe you wanted to save for a car (but got a car loan), an overseas holiday (but put it on the credit card) or felt overwhelmed by housing prices so you thought, ‘why bother?’.

You’re not alone. Setting realistic goals and seeing them through comes naturally to approximately nobody. It’s a learned skill that you can master – no matter how much willpower you’ve convinced yourself you don’t have.

But what is a goal? 

Goal setting helps you design long-term vision for your life. Goals help identify what your priorities are and have the flexibility to shift and evolve with you as you move through them.

All goals are made up of stepping stones – smaller, short term goals that keep you on track. Whether your goals are around your career, savings or relationships looking at these stepping stones as mini-achievements can help keep you on track and motivated for the long haul.

Knowing where and when to set goals requires having insight into your values and your priorities in life. Not every goal needs to be life changing but they do need to make sense for you and your situation.

Working towards achieving your goals strengthens your ambition.

And the best part? It gets easier every time.

Why your brain loves goal setting 

Part of the reason people can easily forget goals is due to skipping the very important step of setting up a connection. This makes your goals personal.

Doing this – literally – emotionally connects you to your goal and increases your chance of committing for the long haul.

So what might that look like for an everyday person?

  • A new car is a symbol of freedom and independence, not just a shiny new way to get from A to B.

  • Buying a home or reaching a savings goal gives you financial security. A home also symbolises warmth and putting down roots.

  • Going on holiday can mean a reward for a period of hard work, an opportunity to demonstrate independence in the world or a learning opportunity to experience new cultures.

These are all examples of establishing that emotional connection to your goal. Something that you’ve set in line with your own values and priorities and thereby increasing your likelihood of committing to achieving it.

How to crush your goal setting 

Your goals need to be positively framed SMART goals. What is a SMART goal?

  • Specific
    Set a specific goal, as opposed to a ‘do your best’ goal. You might need to ask yourself some questions to do this: What is it you want to achieve? When? How? Are there any conditions? Why is it your goal? Write your goal down in simple - but specific - terms. You’ll know exactly what you’re aiming for and it will help build that emotional connection and encourage commitment to the cause.

  • Measurable
    Having hard evidence that you’re reaching – or have reached your goals will build motivation throughout the process and most importantly you’ll know when to celebrate.

  • Attainable
    Your goal needs to be realistic and something you can attain. A little bit of challenge works wonders for motivation here – just be careful of crossing the line from challenge to self-sabotage.

  • Relevant
    Your goal needs to be relevant to you and your situation. And only yours! This is a great opportunity to practice self-awareness and see whether what you want is in line with your personality, your strengths and weaknesses, and what you want out of life.

  • Timely
    Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines! This is the key to a SMART goal. You need to have a time-frame to work towards and stay on track.

Why positive?

Setting goals in a positive light puts you in an achievement mindset, rather than a deprivation mindset.

Think about the differences between these two wordings of the same goal:

  • ‘Save $10,000 towards my house deposit in the next 2 years by saving $200 a fortnight’

  • ‘Save for my house deposit by not going out and not spending money’.

Arguably two ways of reading the same goal but the latter is framed in the deprivation mindset which can set you up for failure.

Which one makes you feel more motivated to get to work?

Break down long-term goals into smaller, short term goals

By now you know that goals are made up of shorter-term stepping stones. Turn these stepping stones into shorter-term milestones to keep you motivated along the way.

Back to the house deposit example: ‘Save $10,000 towards my house deposit in the next 2 years by saving $200 a fortnight’.

This can be broken down into:

  • Stick to savings goal of $200 a fortnight for 2 fortnights straight

  • Reach $1,000 in savings

  • Stick to savings goal of $200 a fortnight for 8 fortnights straight

  • Reach $3,000 in savings

  • And so on

You can really break it down to as small a goal as you’d like.

It’s all about making the reward centres in your brain flash with excitement when you reach these mini milestones goals, keeping you motivated and on track towards the larger goal.

Make it even easier by setting up automatic transfer between your everyday account and your savings account. 

Accept that it might not be perfect

We’re all human here. Something will almost certainly happen along the way that will throw your plan out of whack for a period of time. Unexpected expenses, emergencies, a loved one’s birthdays – it can be any number of things. And that’s okay. Life happens.

How you decide to react in these times is up to you. Just by being aware that it’s not going to be perfect can make you better prepared to face it, and stay focused on your goals in spite of it.



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