As a brain-based goal setting, planning, and performance expert, the New Year is a favourite time for me. As long as I can remember, I’ve loved dreaming about everything I wished for the year ahead and creating my list of ‘resolutions’.
Back then, I had no techniques for setting goals, I just loved to do it … and like many of us, I didn’t worry too much about succeeding … after all, who really intends to achieve their New Year’s resolutions — especially given their shockingly high 86% failure rate?
In my early 40s, I had a life reset that ended up forever changing my relationship with goals. I was in a serious car accident that left me needing costly medical treatments, unable to work for 18 months and accumulating considerable debt.
Before the accident, I had been a successful restaurateur and consultant to entrepreneurial organizations. But after nearly losing my life, I wanted more … I wanted work, hobbies, and relationships that fulfilled me. An efficient but lofty list of goals.
Too many of the goals I’d set each new year didn’t come to fruition. So, I began searching for new ways to make my goals happen. My search led me to books like The Secret and Think and Grow Rich and the only established goal-setting protocol back then, the SMART goal.
Although my goal successes increased using these ideas and systems, my results were still hit-and-miss. Some goals came easily; others eluded me despite keeping them among my New Year’s resolutions year after year.
Setting Your Intentions
During my Masters in Leadership, I decided to study neuroscience to see if there were brain-based reasons for why (only some) goals work. What I learned surprised me. Cognitively, everything we do — every minute, every day — starts with a goal.
This makes how we set goals crucial not only to our minute-to-minute decisions, but also to what we do and don’t see, say, and do… and consequently, to what we do and don’t achieve.
Critically, it is our subconscious that controls what we see, hear, say, and do in any given moment based on our subconscious goals — which can contradict our conscious ones. And, when they do, our subconscious goals win. Every time.
You can figure out which of your conscious/subconscious goals are aligned or not. Think about areas in your life where you are happy with the results. These are areas where your goals are aligned. Next, consider areas where you are frustrated, unhappy, or unfulfilled… these are areas where your goals are in opposition.
Our conscious and subconscious goals don’t align automatically because these parts of our brain understand different forms of language. Our conscious brain understands words and concepts and our subconscious brain tunes into images and emotions… and sometimes our words and ideas don’t align with our imagination and emotions.
How to Use Neuroscience to Increase Successes
Focus on one or two strong intentions that you want most rather than a laundry list of resolutions. Communicate each of them to your subconscious by visualizing yourself working toward and achieving them, and by linking them to emotions by imagining what will happen if you don’t achieve them, and if you do.
Why only one or two? Focus is your ally when it comes to achieving more and going further. At the time it happened, I couldn’t see my accident as anything but unlucky. But looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. My accident taught me to live life fully and go after everything I truly care about.
Since then, by systematically pursuing one or two goals at a time, I have built incredible relationships, a fulfilling career, and found hobbies I love. Is my life ideal in every way imaginable now? Of course not. But I am much happier and more fulfilled than I was before the accident, and I love the feeling of setting one or two really serious intentions each year … and achieving them.
Interested in Learning More?
If you’d like to learn about the risks of setting the wrong goals and payoffs of setting the right ones, watch Jill’s talk from our Speaker Salon.
Learn more about the neuroscience of goal setting and New Year’s resolutions.