Goal setting is something we are taught and encouraged to do from a young age. According to scientific research what may seem like a simple plan or new years resolution affects our mind and body quite a lot.
The brain can not distinguish between what is reality and what is a thought, resulting in those goals that we want to achieve being recognised as a part of the self image we already have. Psychologists and neurologists explain that by setting goals we are investing in them as targets as if we had already achieved them. The result being that if we have not yet reached our goals they are perceived more as a loss then of something you never had.
So what does this obvious illusion do for our mind and body? Brain functions are carried out by chemicals known as neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. When looking at goal setting dopamine plays a big role, acting as a motivator when we achieve the desired out come. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good, warm, fuzzy and uplifted. But on the opposite end of the spectrum the frustration of not having what we desire starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.
The breakdown of a romantic relationship is a great example of how dopamine works. It is safe to say many of us strive to find a partner in life, it is a very common and important goal. When a relationship is ended even though the goal is perceived as a part of our self image it has not yet been achieved and the flow of dopamine stops. Which is why many feel they have been hit with a ten tonne truck and will never get up again.
Taking all of this into account how should you work with your mind to maximise the benefits of goal setting and avoid becoming stressed and anxious? The fact is that making goals and paying attention to them releases dopamine which is a fantastic motivator. The key to not becoming overwhelmed is to set a small number of achievable goals. Remember the quote “ A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” focus on each step, once you have reached your achievable goals then make some more. Ultimately our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s sense of who we are can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!