What is really happening when we set goals
There's a psychology behind goal setting. Curiously, it is a fact our brain can’t tell the difference from what we want and what we have. When we set a goal, our brain will act as if we've already accomplished it. It is part of the condition that drives us. On the flip side, if we fail to achieve a goal, our brain reacts as if the missed mark is a loss of a valued possession, possibly creating anxiety or fear. It will, however, seek to resolve the goal until the goal is achieved. Therefore, we promote setting smaller goals to ultimately achieve a larger one. For each smaller, measurable goal achieved, we get gratification. Our brains like short-term goals. These smaller goals can also be viewed as tasks. If you make a list of tasks, or mini goals to achieve daily, your sense of accomplishment will be greater. Working our way through a road-map to success is not a coincidence.
There is also a lot that goes on in the brain from a chemical standpoint. Serotonin is a chemical found in the human body. It carries signals along and between nerves - a neurotransmitter. Found in the brain, it knows to contribute to well-being and happiness. Serotonin also plays a role in your confidence and will bolster self-esteem, increasing your feelings of worthiness and creating a sense of belonging. To increase serotonin, challenge yourself regularly and pursue things that reinforce a sense of purpose, meaning and accomplishment. Accomplishing a goal or task, no matter how small, will build self-esteem, create more serotonin and make you less insecure.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward, pleasure, motivation and desire sensations. Dopamine naturally produced by your brain makes you feel good, and it plays a key role in achievement resulting in better self-confidence. Rewards typically increase for more difficult goals. If you believe you'll be well-compensated or otherwise rewarded for achieving a challenging goal, this will boost your enthusiasm and your drive to get it done.
Research shows that setting goals can increase performance when:
- the goals are specific and sufficiently challenging,
- the subjects have sufficient ability,
- feedback is provided to show progress in relation to the goal,
- rewards such as money are given for goal attainment,
- the experimenter or manager is supportive (if applicable),
- and assigned goals are accepted and agreed upon by the individual.
Are you thinking all of this sounds familiar? If you have been following along and have read our previous articles, then you will understand this is not the first time we have talked about the benefits of setting goals.
The Downside of Goal-Setting -- Depression and Anxiety
Not all goals are created equal. Goals with no specific aim can even be bad for your mental health. If a goal is too vague, it’s harder to reach, and you don’t know when or if you’ve even gotten there. Setting goals can increase anxiety, if not done well.
Sense of Failure
Achieving a goal feels great, creates a sense of accomplishment and sends your happy neurochemicals soaring. However, not meeting a goal or getting off track somewhere along the way, can feel pretty lousy. When someone doesn’t hit their goal mark, it can lead to self-criticism, de-motivation, and a sense of failure. If there’s a silver lining to not accomplishing your goals, it is the situation presents an opportunity to learn and grow. Many successful people tell us that failure is part of success.
Michael Jordan said:
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And this is why I succeed.”
As you can see, we don’t set goals just because our boss told us to do it; rather, we set goals because our brain tells us too. Your brain, like it or not, is seeking the positive feeling it gets from setting and achieving a goal. It is your job to set those goals, both big and small, while creating and executing those tasks. Be successful and pursue relevance.