How To Trick Your Brain Into Accomplishing New Year’s Goals

By Jenny Katz

It’s the first week of January, and some people have already given up on New Year’s resolutions they made just before midnight on the 31st. Setting goals, no matter how small, is an important part of living a fulfilled and productive life. Those who set goals are more successful, whether that’s earning a promotion or getting a six pack. However, there’s a lot more going on than just thinking and doing.

Setting goals feels good, and achieving them feels even better. When you achieve a goal, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes your brain feel things like pleasure and reward, is released. Dopamine is also one of the chemicals associated with feelings of love and affection.

Ultimately, achieving goals is great for you and your brain. However, failing to achieve your goals can take a lot out of the both of you.

This is because while your brain is great at a lot of things, it’s also very easily fooled. Setting a goal and even visualizing its completion can trick your brain into thinking the goal is already accomplished, bringing a rush of dopamine at the very thought. Your brain isn’t so great at distinguishing between “wanting” and “having”, either, so the goal you set might get integrated into your brain’s sense of who you are. After all that, if you don’t finish, you might feel as though you lost a piece of yourself. That feeling, and the loss of the dopamine rush, can lead to fear and anxiety over setting future goals.

So what can you do to achieve your goals this year?

1. Start small. If your goals are too big, too vague or too many in number, more anxiety will surround the need to achieve them, and your brain will feel the letdown more if you don’t make it. Pick smaller tasks, and you’ll make your brain happy with all you accomplish.

Want to master the ukulele? Start with mastering one chord at a time. Want to eat more healthfully? Eliminate or add one thing from your diet for a month, and see where that takes you. Your goals should be measurable and actionable, a quantifiable task that you can take specific steps to achieve.

2. Dim the daydreams. If you spend too much time thinking about what it would be like to accomplish your goals, you might trick your brain into thinking it’s already gotten what it wants, and you’ll diminish your motivation.

3. Get accountability. While your brain might be tricked into thinking you’ve already done the thing, your friend’s brain won’t be so easily fooled! Find a buddy (online or IRL) and check in regularly to talk about whether you’ve actually completed the tasks you’ve assigned yourself.

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