The ONLY Goal Setting Guide You’ll Ever NeedJul 21, 2023
There are three common approaches to goals, which I chose to research for you, and I've found out which are the “MUST HAVE” or “MYTHS”.
3 Most Common Rules About Goals
- It takes 21 days to change a habit
- Willpower is the way!
- You just need to imagine or visualise it and it’s yours!
Myth #1 busted: It takes 21 days to change a habit
The 21 days (about 3 weeks) belief became popular based on 1960’s research (Maxwell, Maltz) and thankfully, a lot of research has gone deeper on the topic since then.
Research led by Phillipa Lally (2009) has shown it takes an average of around two months (66 days in fact) to really achieve a new habit - nothing like 21 days!
Many people can change a habit in 66 days, but some may make permanent change quicker while others can take over 100 days. No judgement. The time taken isn’t what is important, and your commitment to trying is what this article is focused on leveraging.
Habit change isn’t about whether you are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at making change. Instead, it is all about changing the circuitry or wiring of our brains, and when we change our habits we begin to change the wiring. Once a habit is truly ‘wired’ it becomes permanent, but there is quite a road to travel getting there.
I know two to three months is around when the goal becomes effortless, and I forget there was a previous habit. What about you – how many days have you tried to change a habit this year?
Myth #2 busted: Willpower is the way!
Growing up, if you tried to drop a habit and felt tempted to go back to your old ways, were you told by caregivers or teachers to use your willpower and “push through”?
When it comes to changing your beliefs about what you are working towards, trying to get there by just toughening up doesn't work, because willpower is not a skill. That’s right, it’s not a skill or technique!
Willpower isn’t a mindset, it is much more like a muscle and because of this, it tires. During the day your willpower will fade and by evening, I recommend avoiding situations or people where an irresistible temptation exists.
OLD HABITS NEVER DIE,
THEY JUST GET REWIRED
Since willpower gets depleted, it is important to know that your habits are based around reward, such as eating a sweet tastes good and feels great because your brain releases hormones that lift our mood (aka happy hormones, such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and more).
We repeat the action because of the reward we received.
To reach the goal we need to change this habit, and the most effective way is actively replacing and repeating1 the (old) habit with new behaviour (like walking outside when you crave sugar, or something else). Changing habits is focused on creating ‘new’ rewards and wiring in the brain circuitry to replace the previous, which will be pruned away.
Myth #3 busted: You just need to imagine or visualise your goal and it's yours!
What do athletes and successful people, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey and Michael Phelps and Lindsay Vohn all have in common? They’ve all broken many records and they swear by their visualisation practice as key to their success.
Yet, amongst the rest of us...there’s no end to speculation on whether imagining or visualising goals actually “works”.
Personally, I’m a fan of adding visualisation and vision boards to goal setting. The brain loves visual cues and when you incorporate visualisation of ideal outcomes into your goal setting, these create optical cues which have a powerful effect on your brain, all taking place automatically and beneath your awareness.
If you keep looking at the ‘cue’ each day, and feeling the emotions related to that great visualisation, the brain makes this your new ‘normal’ level of success or outcome, all happening at the subconscious level of your awareness.
On the topic of visualisation, The Scientific American reports: “Visualization and action are intimately connected, involving the motor cortex. Thinking about our body doing something—raising an arm or walking forward—activates the motor cortex directly.”
You can rehearse the action steps towards your goal, which might be increasing your exercise, drinking more water, giving up unhealthy habits or relationships, or something else.
Importantly, pictures aren’t enough alone and taking action is key! Yes, enjoy the creative process of cutting out images to create a vision board of the change you want in life, or receiving the award, but do the reps as well.
Bonus tip: Your essential motivation
Make sure that the reason why you chose the goal feels essential or intrinsically motivating to you. Why? Let’s say you want to become more active, and you tell a friend who joins the gym with you. You go to the gym together, both getting active, all is going well. They change their mind.
If you didn’t have a reason deep inside you, to continue going, the goal fades. External motivation, to impress or please friends, family or partners, or to belong and fit in to groups, etc, will not sustain your vision or goal the same way that intrinsic motivation will. This is good news!
Focusing on what you can control such as your own motivation reduces stress around the goal, and you cannot control external factors (i.e. friends not sticking to the goal, or family not approving of your choices after all, etc).
Instead of stressing about a goal, begin with small steps in the right direction. Trying to be easy about it and appreciating your effort along the way (like a pat on the back), has dual benefits.
Firstly, enjoying the journey lets you release unnecessary attachment to the outcome, making the action steps the reward.
Secondly, achieving small wins triggers the brain to release hormones that lift our mood (another happy hormone hit).
Finally, accolades for success are best when they are a by-product of your goal, not the goal.
Let me know how your new year goals are going?
PS - If you'd like to create beliefs to match your goals, start now with the checklist below.
Since your repeated thoughts play a big role in your daily life, it's worth exploring which are helpful and which could be holding you back, so I've created a checklist to get you started.