Achieving your goals isn’t just about hard work and discipline. It’s about physiology. By understanding how the brain processes success and failure, you can jump-start your productivity to create a winning streak and put an end to failed New Year’s resolutions.
The more times you succeed at something, the longer your brain stores the information that allowed you to do so well in the first place. That’s because with each success, our brain releases a chemical called dopamine.
When dopamine flows into the brain’s reward pathway (the part responsible for pleasure, learning and motivation), we not only feel greater concentration but are inspired to re-experience the activity that caused the chemical release in the first place.
This is why the cultivation of small wins can propel you to bigger success, and you should focus on setting just a few small achievable goals. While your ambitions can remain grand, setting the bar too high with goals can actually be counterproductive. Each time we fail, the brain is drained of dopamine making it not only hard to concentrate but also difficult to learn from what went wrong.
Why We Learn More From Success Than Failure
Ever find yourself destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again? According to a study completed by researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, that is exactly how our brains are wired to work. Their findings determined that our brain cells only learn from experience when we do things right and failure doesn’t register the same way.
In the experiment, monkeys viewed two images on a computer screen, one that presented a reward if the subject reacted by looking right, another when it looked left. The study showed that the brain response when a monkey received an award for looking the right way improved its chances of performing well on the next trial.
The study makes important discoveries not only about the way we learn but the brain’s neural plasticity or ability to change in response to experiences. When behaviour is successful our cells become finely tuned to what the animal was learning at the time while a failure shows little change in the brain or improvement in the monkey’s behaviour.
Set Goals Your Brain Likes
Collecting wins, no matter how small, can chemically wire you to move mountains by causing a repeated release of dopamine. But to get going you have to land those first few successes. The key to creating your own cycle of productivity is to set a grand vision and work your way there with a few, achievable goals that increase your likelihood of experiencing a positive outcome.
“Your vision is your destination, and small, manageable goals are the motor that will get you there,” says Dr Frank Murtha, a New York-based counselling psychologist with a focus on investor psychology, behavioural finance and financial risk taking. “Without the vision you’re on a road to nowhere. Without the goals, you have a destination but no motor. They work in tandem, and you need both.”
Create a Road Map for Your Subconscious Mind
Kick off goal setting by preparing a short vision statement of where you want to go. “Vision creates a picture for the subconscious mind. Our subconscious is what makes us such good problem solvers compared to a computer,” says Dr Richard Peterson, a psychiatrist and neuroeconomics researcher who has written two books on financial risk taking.
“We can see 1 000 dimensions of a problem and sort it down to the most important very quickly.”
The subconscious is not only responsible for 90% of the decisions we make in day-to-day life, but is also the part of the brain that is largely in charge when we are performing creative tasks or charting unknown territory. The very act of giving your emotional brain a detailed portrait of your end goal also ensures that, even inadvertently, you will take the steps needed to steer yourself toward it.
Articulate your vision with words and a picture or two; the more detailed the better. Post this where you can see it regularly.
Work Your Way There With Short-Term Goals
To rack up those first few wins, you’ve got to set only a few short-term goals at a time. Each should ideally take no more than three months to achieve. The goals should be realistic and specific, and incorporate your strengths. Writing them down, ideally in a place where you will see them every day, will help you stay focused.
If success releases the production of dopamine, failure can do the opposite. Setting over-reaching goals, or too many goals at once, can be counterproductive for those seeking to harness the power of the brain’s reward centre. If you set four goals and achieve only two of them, it’s human nature to focus on what went wrong; even the successes you were able to accomplish fail to drum out what you weren’t able to achieve.
Remember, success begets success.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio – More Than An SUV
The All-New Alfa Romeo Stelvio draws inspiration from the legendary mountain pass linking Italy to Switzerland, with 48 hairpins in quick succession.
The All-New Alfa Romeo Stelvio draws inspiration from the legendary mountain pass linking Italy to Switzerland, with 48 hairpins in quick succession. The Stelvio pass is widely seen as one of the most beautiful and engaging roads on the planet.
What You Put In Is What You Get Out – Create Your Own Success
The secret to curating a successful life starts with what you put in.
You are what you eat, the saying goes. Your physical and even mental health are highly dependent on what you eat (or consume) daily. There are four fundamental factors of a system: Input, boundaries, purpose and output. All systems are mostly defined by the combination of these four factors.
A professional athlete will be very diligent about what they consume in order to achieve the best possible outcome, and sprinters will have different guides and regimes to marathon runners. Essentially, high performing athletes curate their input, or design their own lives, to produce a favourable output.
The same is true of the high-performance entrepreneur — they too should be curating their input, not just in terms of what they consume through their mouths but more importantly, what they consume with their ears and eyes.
A few years ago, I began to recognise that even though I might wake up in a good space in the morning, by 10am I would be feeling negative regardless of my daily practices. I had already established the discipline of recording and recognising my successes daily, as well as repeating daily affirmations and visualisations, yet within a few hours of starting my day, I found myself in a negative space.
I couldn’t figure out what was causing this; but after some analysis I realised that my daily routine included listening to talk radio on the way to work, catching up with the news on Twitter before my first meeting, and reading the morning paper which was neatly laid out on my desk. It quickly became clear that my negativity could be attributed to my over-consumption of bad news.
Each communication platform — from Twitter to the radio — has the power to depress anyone who consumes its news, but the combination of all three was toxic to me. It affected my mood, concentration and, invariably, my output. In a single decision, I eliminated these three platforms from my daily ‘diet’ and instead curated a different morning experience to see whether it would change the output. Instead of the radio, I decided to listen to either music or an audiobook; instead of Twitter, I decided to call a friend; and I didn’t renew my newspaper subscription.
The results were instantaneous. This experiment set me on a mission to see what else I could deliberately curate and design, so I began to strategically design my life to inform the successful and positive output that I desired. I subscribed to online newsletters that were informative and thought-provoking, such as Brain Food by Shane Parish; I cajoled my management team to begin listening to audiobooks at the same time that I was doing so to ensure that we included positive discussions in our bi-monthly meetings; and I ensured that there were always three litres of water in my immediate surrounds to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
Create your own success
In case you haven’t experienced the lightbulb moment yet, the simple explanation is this: All systems have inputs and outputs, and the quality of the input results in the quality of the output.
If you see yourself as the curator of your input and as the architect of your environment, you can start to create the inputs, set the boundaries and define purposes to result in the output that commands entrepreneurial success.
If something really affects the quality of your life — whether it’s your attitude, your mood or the clarity of your thought processes — it’s time to relook the design and start to curate an environment that is conducive to your success.
And, if you’re concerned about missing out on what’s happening, always remember that, if a news report or update has a direct impact on your life, the chances are high that you will hear it through your friends and family.
Follow These 8 Steps To Stay Focused And Reach Your Goals
Decrease the amount of noise in your head.
Accomplishing a goal can be hard work. But even if a project is something you are passionate about and want to complete, distractions such as social media, doubts and other tasks can make it nearly impossible to concentrate on it. Don’t fret. We’re here to help.
Check out these eight steps to help you prioritise and clear your mind.
1. Stop multitasking
Instead of trying to do a million things at once, take a step back and tackle one task at a time. And while your inclination might be to start your day with busy work – like checking emails – and then move onto to the harder things, you should try to get your brain moving by challenging yourself with with a bigger, more creative endeavor first thing.
Related: Goal Setting Guide
2. Block out your days
A good way to hold yourself accountable when it comes to quieting the noise all around you is to specifically block out time in your day – maybe it’s 30 minutes or an hour – to spend on a given project.
Colour code your calendar or set a timer to make sure you are accomplishing the goal at hand.
3. Get your blood pumping
You can’t focus if your are stuck inside and staring at a screen all day long. Turn off your computer and phone, and go for a walk for 20 minutes. The fresh air and the movement will clear your head. Also make sure that you are drinking enough water and getting enough rest.
4. Help your technology help you
A platform like RescueTime, a software that runs while you work and shows you how you are spending your day, could help you understand why something is taking longer to complete than it should. Options like Cold Turkey, Freedom and Self Control block out the internet entirely to keep you off your Twitter feed when you should be meeting deadlines.
Get a recommendation for a yoga or meditation class, or even make it an office outing so everyone get some time to quiet their minds. Or look online for a plethora of apps and platforms whose stock and trade is mindfulness, like Meditation Made Simple, Calm and Headspace.
For slightly more of a monetary investment, you could look into wearable tech like Thync, a device that produces electrical pulses to help your brain decrease stress.
6. Change up what’s in your headphones
While background noise might help block out a loud office or construction outside your window, you need to be careful that what you are listening to isn’t distracting you more.
Music with lyrics can sap your focus from the task in front of you, so consider trying classical or electronic music instead. Or use a playlist that is familiar to you, so you aren’t tempted to turn all your attention to the new sound.
7. Streamline your communication
If you find that all of your focus gets trained on getting your inbox down to zero, think about how you can get yourself out from under a relentless deluge of email. Ask yourself and your colleagues to think about whether this conversation would be most effective through email, on the phone or in person.
Taking five minutes to walk over to someone else’s workspace will save you the time and energy invested into a redundant email chain and clarify how you want to attack a problem more quickly.
8. Find an environment with the right kind of noise
To be the most effective, you need to strike a delicate balance between too much noise and total silence. According to David Burkus, an associate professor of leadership and innovation at Oral Roberts University, “some level of office banter in the background might actually benefit our ability to do creative tasks, provided we don’t get drawn into the conversation,” Burkus wrote in the Harvard Business Review.
“Instead of total silence, the ideal work environment for creative work has a little bit of background noise. That’s why you might focus really well in a noisy coffee shop, but barely be able to concentrate in a noisy office.”
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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