A large part of building resilience lies in harnessing the ability to formulate goals and achieve them. Setting goals is about intention and taking control of more of the things that shape our lives, rather than letting events dictate and determine the outcome for us.

The human brain is a goal-seeking mechanism and its ability to set goals is a master skill for it unlocks energy for change, confidence and focus

For some people, even thinking about setting a goal can be both scary and overwhelming, but without goals, there is a risk that people will drift and flow on the currents of life with minimal purpose and meaning.

So, when it comes to setting goals, many freeze. Sure, everyone has hopes and dreams but to state them out loud or plot a course of action for achieving such things never materialises. Leaving people stuck and just “hoping” things change, with it very rarely leading to action. When we’re working towards something meaningful, things rarely go smoothly, and this can undermine confidence. Often leading to back and forth between feelings and our beliefs, hoping that something happens and eventually questioning our ability to achieve it.

Goals connect the present to the future so make sure they’re right for you

Before you can set a goal, much less achieve one, you have to know what you want. You have to be clear about who you are and where you want to end up in life. Working towards meaningful goals is one of the most important ways to become happier. Such purposes could be connected to work, family, the wider community, personal development, hobbies or anything that gets you excited and has value to you.

Loss aversion is a cognitive bias that favours avoiding loss over receiving a gain

It is part of our DNA and can often get in the way of achieving the desired end state, but we can learn to use this bias to our advantage. Loss aversion means that instead of stretching ourself people prefer to act within their comfort zone. They prefer taking small tiny steps to reduce the likelihood of failure. If setting goals is something, you are new to or nervous about, focusing on these small steps and short term goals can be the ideal place to start.

Setting goals

Ensure that your goals both scare and excite you. You need to ask yourself “does this goal stretch my capabilities and takes me outside of my comfort zone?”. It can be scary but setting a stretched goal means you are more likely to get to where you want to go, and you boost your confidence because you’ve achieved something challenging.

You may want to ask yourself:

  • What would I try if I knew it was impossible to fail?
  • What gets me excited and gives me goosebumps?

Make it work for you

Continuing to commit to a goal, wholeheartedly can be hard work. Full of dips and troughs, highs and lows. So make sure you:

  • Writing the goals down
  • Break them down into priorities
  • Set specific daily actions and beliefs you need to focus on to achieve the priorities. 

Ensure you find ways to “trip over your goals” daily with regular reminders to remain focused and motivated. Monitoring your progress weekly also helps to retain focus and confidence. This will also allow you to take any action you need to get back on track. Make your brain chemistry work for you to achieve your goals.

Make your brain chemistry work for you to achieve your goals

Your brain has a ‘pleasure-producing reward system’ that helps drive your behaviour towards the good and away from what you perceive to be bad. With every achievement along the path to your goals, your body releases dopamine into your brains that elevates your mood and keeps you motivated and focused. So make sure you trip over and monitor your goals.

Your brain can PUNISH you

Until we’ve achieved our goal our brain treats it similarly to the way we perceive the loss of a valued possession, acting as a motivator to find solutions and ways forward. That’s why it is common to feel anxious or overwhelmed, a completely normal process experienced when moving towards our goals. Being aware of this ‘trap’ is the first step in combating it and finding ways to trip over our goals every single day helps us manage any low motivation we experience.

If achieving stretch goals was easy, everyone would be doing it.

Remember that often the most important thing is to fail forward and learn from your mistakes. If you need to set a few small goals rather than many and make sure the stretch is appropriate and not overreaching. If you set five goals and achieve two, then it’s human nature to focus on the failure so remind yourself of the good things you have done.

Beware of all talk and no action

Psychologists call this creating a new “social reality”. In other words, you provide false reassurance that lulls your brain into feeling it’s already achieved the goal, and this takes away the chemical motivation to complete it.

Guard against the “social reality” effect by making sure your goals are measurable and monitored for progress. This way, the praise will contribute to your motivation instead of hijacking your brain’s natural tendencies.

Practice Makes Perfect

Turn your daily actions into habits, and as you build momentum, your goal will seem more straightforward to achieve. Remember that as you continue to achieve your goals, your confidence will grow.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”

John. C. Maxwell

Setting goals is about intention and taking control of more of the things that shape your life, rather than letting events dictate and determine the outcome for us. And unless you get involved it’s unlikely that positive change will happen as often as you might want.