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Goal Setting & Dopamine

October 18, 2017

By Giana B. Sirota & Tamara Castellano
Do you have a goal you have been wanting to set? Maybe you want to workout more, lose weight or learn to speak a new language.  Or perhaps you want to set an annual reading goal?

Setting a goal and reaching it gives you a sense of accomplishment and triggers the reward system (ie. DOPAMINE) in your brain.  And—as you know—when dopamine is released, you feel happy.  Thus goal setting can be a key component in giving you an on-going sense of wellbeing.

But setting goals and actually attaining them, well that’s the trick.

Admit it, sometimes you see people on social media doing things that you wish you could do or would like to try.  We’ve all thought, "they did that, I want to do that,” but you never start it, let alone finish it.

Recently, we each set a goal. Giana’s was to give up eating meat for 21 days. Tamara’s was to workout six days a week for a month. 

Giana succeeded, saying “it was actually easier than I thought. The days went by fairly quickly so that helped.  It was a pretty victorious goal to reach as I had never done something like this before.”

“Working out consistently for six days a week was a huge lifestyle change,” said Tamara.  “I’m active but I didn’t get to the gym all the time.  So I started small and committed to 30 minutes a day.”

Setting goals takes some work, so we wanted to give you some easy guidelines to follow to help you set AND attain your goals.

Make it attainable.

We don’t recommend setting a goal like solving world peace as you’d probably be setting yourself up to fail.  But you could set a goal of performing a random act of kindness everyday.  Just something simple like holding the door open for someone or surprising a friend with a card "just because."

Whatever your goal is, just make sure it’s “difficult” enough to stretch for it, but not so complicated that you can’t attain it.

Change your environment.

Your brain has the amazing ability to connect an environment with a routine.  For example, when you go to the movies, you automatically order popcorn even if you’re not hungry—because you’ve created a habit for yourself that can be hard to break.  Maybe you’ve set a goal to write a book or start a blog but every time you go to your local coffee shop, you zone out instead of writing? Try going to a different coffee shop or go to a park to write.  The change in scenery can be enough to jumpstart your brain into building a new habit that helps you hit your goal. 

And speaking of habits…

Try to make attaining the goal you’ve set for yourself part of a new habit.  The key to forming a habit it consistency.  So let’s say you’re goal is to workout three days a week.  The best way to make that happen is to plan your workouts so you create a new habit.  Start by deciding what workout you’re going to do.  If you’re going to take a class, pick out the class you want to take and put it on your calendar like you would any other meeting or appointment and keep the schedule consistent every week.  Or maybe you want to lift weights.  Decide what exercises you’ll do when you get to the gym and set aside a consistent time for when you’re going to go to the gym.

Manipulate Dopamine

You already know that dopamine is released when you get something you want. By want, we mean your favorite meal, a new job, ticking something off your to-do list.  Those things release dopamine and make you feel happy. You can trick your brain into releasing dopamine by breaking your big goal into smaller pieces. Let’s use the example of setting an annual reading goal of 10 books. Instead of just thinking about 10 books, set a smaller goal of reading every night for 15 minutes.  That way each time you hit that smaller goal, the release of dopamine and ensuing sense of accomplishment will give you the boost you need to complete the bigger goal of 10 books.

 

What are some of your tricks for reaching your goals?  Share your thoughts below and we’ll post them on our Facebook page.

 

“It always seems impossible until its done.” Nelson Mandela



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