What is your lofty goal – that thing you really want to do but can never seem to get to? Maybe you want to write a book, learn a foreign language, or start your own business. You have the best of intentions, but when you look back on your day, you didn’t take a single step toward that goal. You were able to find time for a lot of other things. But that thing you really want to do… maybe tomorrow.
We are all prone to procrastinate at times. In fact, there is brain science behind procrastination. But, sometimes, we get stuck in thinking traps that prevent us from shifting out of neutral and into drive. And the stories we tell ourselves have a profound effect on motivation and productivity.
- It’s so daunting; I don’t even know where to start.
- I’ll get to that as soon as I (fill in the blank).
Soon is not a day and “someday” is not a plan.
The most common excuse for not getting “that thing” done is time. There’s just not enough time in the day! Here’s the thing: we all get 24 hours in every day. It’s the only thing that makes us equal. So, why do some people spend those hours doing things that take them closer the finish line while others bounce between distractions or thinking traps that keep those goals just out of reach?
Turn Your Goal-Setter into a Goal-Getter
We remember “that good thing” and, in anticipation, dopamine encourages us to act to achieve something good or to avoid something bad.
The secret to goal-getting superpowers is motivation. And the secret to motivation is dopamine. Dopamine is commonly associated with addiction as the “pleasure and reward” drug; we release it when we get something satisfying. Often called the “seeking” chemical, it’s what makes us seek out sex, drugs, chocolate, shopping – whatever the vice. But, the latest scientific evidence shows that dopamine is actually released in anticipation of the pleasure rather than as a result of it. We remember “that good thing” and, in anticipation, dopamine encourages us to act to achieve something good or to avoid something bad. In fact, dopamine has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself. As complex as the brain is, it’s amazingly simple to get the dopamine flowing.
6 Brain Hacks to Goal-Getting Superpowers
1. Plan Strategically
Many people start their day with the less important, less taxing tasks like email or social media. Before you know it, you’re 2 hours into your day with not a lot to show for it. Instead, address that big important goal first. Even if you can’t finish it, small steps will give you a sense of accomplishment. Make your last task of the day a reflection of what you accomplished and a simple plan for the following day.
2. Eat the frog
Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Identify your frog – that big scary thing that looms large casting a dark shadow on your confidence or the most important task on your list. Even if you know you won’t finish it, starting your day with it makes it a little smaller and a little less scary. Chunk those less important tasks in smaller 15-30 minute intervals throughout the day.
- See the progress
Seeing an accomplishment is a reward in itself. It’s the brain’s way of tricking us into thinking we’ve won while the prefrontal cortex continues to focus on the task. Put a glass jar on the desk and add a paperclip or a marble every time progress toward the goal is made. Or, print the calendar and highlight tasks completed as each is done. It sounds simple, but visually seeing tasks done right before your eyes will release enough dopamine to keep you motivated in pursuit of your goal.
- Share your goal.
Talk about your goal to another human being every day. Whether in a face to face conversation, a phone call or a text exchange, telling other people about your goal is a great way to build in accountability and keep your vision of success top of mind. The more you share, the more people will ask you how it’s going. It gives you a chance to celebrate the small victories along the way and a bit of encouragement when you’re feeling unmotivated. Not only will you stay focused on your goal, but you’ll also get the added bonus of feeling connected with someone in a meaningful way.
- Turn off Email Notifications
While many of us think we are multitasking ninjas, neuroscience tells us that we’re not. As incredible as the human brain is, it has a tough time focusing on two demanding tasks simultaneously. Rather, your brain just bounces back and forth between tasks becoming more inefficient with each bounce. The more you toggle back and forth between tasks and email throughout the day, the more inefficient you get at each task. According to a University of California-Irvine study, we lose 20 minutes every time we shift our focus from the current task to email.
- Visualize victory
Visualization is a powerful tool used by elite athletes, actors, and public speakers. The brain doesn’t differentiate between an imagined experience and a real one. Conceptualizing what that success looks like and feels like will generate a boost of dopamine just as if you experienced it. Visualization also works because of the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is like the brain’s bouncer. It decides what information is brought into your conscious awareness. By visualizing yourself achieving your goal, your brain will more readily allow any opportunities to meet that goal into your conscious awareness.
- Just say NO.
One of the most valuable skills you can develop to stay focused and motivated toward reaching your goals is the ability to recognize the requests, distractions, and interruptions that will inevitably become time stealers. Just say no.