A few days ago I earned a trip to Paris for two with my company. I had already earned it for one, but going without my husband was not an option. Believe me, I am ecstatic that I get to go back to that amazing city, one of my favorite places in the world, but I am not surprised. I’ve made goal setting and achievement my business and a habit. And honestly, it’s not so much a forced habit as an addiction. I read something a friend posted about trying to earn the same trip, and it made me really sad – she said something along the lines of almost being close to the goal, but she’d never really intended on earning it, but now that she was close, she would try. Excuse me, but WTF?
I try to learn as much as possible about being happy, about achieving, about growing as I can, and I can tell you even from my novice perspective, not really intending on achieving something is a sure fire way NOT TO. And if you want to be happy in life, you should start setting some goals NOW. And I don’t mean little goals. I mean big scary goals that make your guts ache a little.
In our brains, there is a section called the substantia nigra/ventral segmental area or SN/VTA. It’s the “novelty center” of our brain and releases dopamine when we encounter new things. Dopamine makes us happy. Doing new things makes us happy. Here’s a real life situation: My husband is a creature of habit, and while generally a nice and happy guy, he’s not on fire about things – usually. Fortunately, his old company shut down, and he lost his job. While he was training for his new job, he would come home every day and he would not shut up about all the things he was learning. He brought home books to do extra study, he looked at websites, he talked to me nonstop, and he was so friggin happy! He was like a kid on Christmas morning going over all his new presents. He was truly happy and blossoming. I’d read about this chemical happiness from new challenges, but never noticed it happening before. It was so fun to watch! That release is what triggers us to want more new things, because then we get another release. Silly visual – I like to think of it like a hamster that has figured out the release trigger for his treats.
Or maybe look at it as a video game of life. Remember playing Nintendo when you were a kid? And you’d beat one level and mom or dad would come in and say turn it off….NOOOOOO one more level. New thing=dopamine release. Want to know what’s next? Winning new thing=more dopamine, plus endorphins, plus oxytocin plus seratonin. One more level. Gotta get the next fix… Scientists actually think the reason children learn to speak languages so quickly is tied to these neural chemical cocktails of happiness.
It’s a beautiful addiction. New things are great! but achievement is BETTER. The act of setting a goal and truly working on it, in and of itself creates happiness. And we could keep talking science, we could even just say that your soul thrives on it, because it does. The Japanese call it ikigai: that which I wake up for. It’s these goals and causes that fuel our hearts and souls and set us on fire. We anticipate not just the reward, but we enjoy the journey.
Why can’t it be a simple goal? Because with a simple, easily achieved goal, there is no effort. The mind feeds on that effort and the feeling of achieving those scary big goals is like none other. I remember the first time I earned a trip with my company, I yelled in my office, but to me it felt like a lion’s roar. When you set hard goals that are outside your comfort zone, it gives you authentic self esteem: the true belief that you can and will. The true belief in your abilities and powers and talents. If you don’t test them, how do you know the limits? I have not found mine yet…and I bet you won’t either when you really try.
I learned from Dr. Adam Fraser that in Goal Orientation Theory there are three drivers in people. 1 – the desire to WIN. A very powerful one. You can see this anywhere from a game of Life around your kitchen table to a high school football game. Even the audience wants to win! 2. Mastery – the desire to improve all the time, to master a new task, to complete a hard goal. This is the driver that will let you wake up every day to put in a little more effort towards your dreams and desires. This is what major athletes and CEOs and leaders live by. Don’t let yourself be content with driver 3 – the desire simply not to lose. If that is where your goal setting comes from, you will set tiny goals that don’t push you outside your comfort zone, because that third driver is fear based. And there are only two things that you should really fear: loud noises and falling. Everything else is just your ego talking.
So when you set a goal try to do these three things:
FOCUS – make sure that your goal is specific, and that you have reminders of your specific intentions everywhere – (notes on your mirror, goals on paper near your desk, write them down on the top of your daily calendar, or even make your commonly used passwords whatever your goal is).
STAY POSITIVE – if you’ve been reading along, you know that what you think about comes about. Right now I could say, “my goal is to climb Mt. Everest. But if my hearts’ not in it, and I don’t really think I can – I’ll keep saying “yah but that’s never gonna happen” in the back of my head, and then it won’t. You have to keep those positive thoughts in your mind all the time. And if you aren’t feeling it – find a tool that helps you get there. Talk to a good friend, listen to a motivational cd, or go onto YouTube and just search motivation.
TAKE MASSIVE ACTION – meaning LOTS OF IT! You can’t learn to run a marathon by going out on day one and trying to run 20+ miles. Start with one mile, or half a mile, and keep running every day and add little bits onto your total. What’s your goal? What’s the way to achieve it? What’s one thing you can do NOW to travel in that direction? Got an answer yet? Then go do it!