4 Ways You Can Use The Science Behind Setting Goals

Goal setting is not some outdated advice that motivational speakers throw around to impress their audience.

Science has shown that goals are necessary to create a meaningful life and improve the whole society at large.

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi shows how goals help us create a meaningful life and enjoy a state of flow. According to him, we experience flow or the highest level of pleasure when our mind is stretched to its limits to achieve a certain goal.

In fact, he says that goals – and not wealth, power or sex – have the power to make us feel happy and vibrant in life.

Here are four ways you can use the science behind setting goals.

1. It increases performance

Studies show that goals can increase your performance, but they need to be specific and difficult. Difficult doesn’t mean that they are impossible to achieve. It simply means they stretch your limits and push you a little further.

When you set goals, you clearly know what you want to accomplish. It focuses your energy and increases your performance. Difficult goals are hard to achieve but they also inspire and fuel you with energy. It is a beautiful example of the science behind setting goals.

For example, chasing a $500 per month isn’t inspiring. But chasing $5000 to provide your family with a good lifestyle is. The latter will inspire you because your life will drastically change by going from $1000 to $5000.

How to use this – Set specific and difficult goals that stretch your limits.

Science Behind Setting Goals


2. It gives valuable feedback

Research shows that if you seek feedback or review your progress against set goals, you will perform much better. This is because as human beings, we feed on progress. Ask any spiritual master and they will tell you it is our deepest desire to realize our full potential.

Feedback not only increases performance, it also shows us the right direction. When you take feedback, you also get the information to improve your strategy. For example, when a basketball player works with a coach for a competition (goal), the coach instantly shows him how we can improve his game (feedback).

Therefore, goal setting improves performance as well as strategy. A great way you can use the science behind setting goals.

How to use this – After setting a goal, review your progress every 15 days and consult a mentor if possible.

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3. You literally change as a person

Now you will not become Batman overnight and save the world flying around in your batmobile. But you will feel a shift in identity when you set a meaningful goal. You will start seeing yourself differently. This happens because our brains cannot tell the difference between what we want and what we have.

Our identities are always changing, even when our basic traits remain the same. People change careers, find new partners and discover new passions that they never explored before. Similarly, setting a new goal also changes you as a person. Clearly, this is a surprising way to use the science behind setting goals.

On the other hand, this also means that goal-setting needs serious thought. You need to ask yourself, “Does this goal really matter to me? Do I want to become this person?”

How to use this – Set a meaningful goal that matters to you.

Science Behind Setting Goals

4. You activate the brain’s reward system

When you set a serious goal, your brain monitors what you do and alerts you whenever you go off track. In a way, it becomes your parent and keeps a strict eye on you. If it catches you procrastinating for a long time, it will stop the dopamine supply and make you feel anxious, afraid and sad.

In the same way, if it catches you making progress, it will reward you with pleasure. This is done by releasing dopamine every time you complete a milestone.

Science Behind Setting Goals

In short, the reward mechanism works like this –
You physically feel good when you make progress and you physically feel bad when you don’t.

In fact, you can use this hack in a couple minutes. Break down your goals into small goals. With each goal, you will feel a surge of pleasure and it will motivate you to work harder. This is why Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven, who commanded the forces which killed Osama Bin Laden, says that you should make your bed first thing in the morning.

How to use this – Break down your goals into small goals. Even making your bed in the morning counts.

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