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The Neuroscience of Goal Setting

Henry Ford said "The man who thinks he can and the man who thinks he can'are both right."
That's long been one of my favourites because it puts the finger fairly and squarely on one's mindset as determining success; it's our responsibility to have a positive attitude when embarking on a project.
But the right mindset without the right steps to put it into action is not going to get us very far in reality. This is where goal-setting comes in: it's important for us to have the vision and positivity, but setting and reaching goals will actually make it happen.
There have been many interesting studies in neuroscience about the power of goals, and we can use the findings in our personal and professional lives.
Be Specific
The more specific you are with your goals the better. The "vision" is the wider view; goals should be well-defined action steps to achieving that vision and should be in a specific and logical order. Research shows that blurring the sharp edges of these goals can lead to deviation from the path you need to take to get there.
Keep at It - Or Keep Failing!
Goals should focus our minds on specific tasks. But we need to have the mental strength and perseverance to keep at it when inevitable setbacks happen. That's where the "can do" positivity comes in - if you let the knock backs get to you, doubts can set in and then you might start experiencing an internal conflict about whether you should give up or carry on. Studies have shown that this can lead to production of the stress hormone cortisol, which is your brain responding to threat. This may cause you to abandon your goals - so beware!
Our Brains Will Steer Us to Our Goals
Once the goals have been set and we have a positive attitude to achieving them, our brains will also produce dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter. A study on animals showed that, as the goal gets closer, the signal from the dopamine gets stronger, which suggests to neuroscientists that it acts like an internal guiding mechanism to reaching our goals. Hopefully it out-muscles the cortisol!
Sharing Goals Helps You Reach Them
We are essentially social beasts. Research shows that, once you have internalised your goals and convinced yourself they are do-able, the more you externalise them the more likely you will be to achieve them. That may mean writing them down, sharing them with friends and family and having others help you monitor progression.
Keeping the Clarity and Balance
Mental clarity and balance is important to achieving goals. Studies from neuroscience show that anything that disrupts this balance can be a hindrance to attaining a goal: this may include fantasising too much and losing sight of the steps needed, becoming too obsessed with the goal, or "over-thinking" it. Having the perseverance and ability to reach a goal is great, but it can be trumped by the doubts that stem from thinking too much on it - just ask any golfer, snooker player or top athlete!
Tony Robbins said "Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible." In order to achieve those goals actions steps are needed; understanding some of the obstacles that the mind will place in our way, and the best ways to navigate around them, can help us improve our success rate.
The team at NeuroPower is at the forefront of introducing new approaches to organisational development through the findings of neuroscience. We apply them to all types of businesses, developing high performing teams and enhancing leadership. Find out more at our website:


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