Growing up, we are constantly told the importance of setting goals. We are taught that if we want to attain or accomplish something that we must write it down, think about it, and then map out a plan to get there. I never understood the importance of this goal-setting process until I had so much on my plate that I felt overwhelmed, unorganized, and unprepared to tackle my day. From managing my relationships with family and friends, a career, maintaining my mental and physical health, running a nonprofit, and finding time for myself – it’s certainly not easy. All of these facets of life must be filled to their appropriate levels to ensure that overall happiness, fulfillment, and joy are met.
There probably isn’t a single “successful” person on this earth that does not utilize some aspect of goal-setting. You can think of it as a requirement for your brain. It turns out there is a substantial amount of scientific research that points to how goal-setting literately changes your brain thus allowing yourself to reach your goals and aspirations more effectively.
During the goal-setting process your amygdala – the part of the brain that creates emotion – evaluates the degree to which the goal is important to you. Next, your prefrontal cortex – your willpower machine – defines the specifics of what the goal entails. Finally, while knowing your desired goal, your amygdala, and prefrontal cortex work together to keep you focused on moving towards your goals. They also work together to identify behaviors and situations that may or may not support your desired goal or outcome.
This entire process can be grouped into a new study that the scientific community now terms: neuroplasticity – which is the brain's ability to change throughout its lifetime. Goal-setting literally changes the structure of your brain.
In fact, the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that setting goals that are highly emotional – which means the person is highly motivated to succeed – tends to have a greater impact on the structure of the human brain thus causing “participants to downwardly evaluate the difficulty of achieving that goal.” “In other words, if you strongly desire a goal, your brain will perceive obstacles as less significant than they might otherwise appear.”
It’s clear there are significant advantages to setting clear definitive goals for your brain. While your amygdala attaches intentional emotion to your goal – your prefrontal cortex works hard to develop a map to get you to your desired destination.
Unfortunately, this process can only work if you have a pretty good idea of where you want to go. This means you must spend time and figure out what you want to accomplish before you can take advantage of and utilize the true powers of your mind. Spend time developing a list of goals that you want to accomplish each day and then allow your brain to do the rest. Think to yourself “what needs to happen today for this day to be a successful day?”