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Making your goals easier to reach can be enhanced by keeping a few principles in mind. In a recent seminar on forming new behaviors, Dr. George F. Koob stated that, “Trying not to do something will make you constantly think about it and usually increases rather than decreases the behavior.”
Goals are often thought of as trying to resist doing something, particularly if we are trying to override an existing behavior. Such examples might be trying not to overeat or spending less time on the internet. Even if we are trying to move toward a goal rather than resisting an undesirable behavior, sometimes we aren’t using effective strategies that can make the attainment of that goal easier and more likely to occur.
If you are trying to reach a goal, try these strategies:
1. Think of your goal as something you are moving toward rather than something you are trying to resist. It takes a considerable amount of willpower to resist. Often our behaviors are habitual in nature and are well-worn pathways in our brain. Even thinking about these behaviors as something you would like to to stop strengthens that pathway. Only by directing your attention elsewhere will the old pathways fade.
2. Prepare for high-risk situations. Have a strategy in place for when you may be led astray. There are always triggers that can take you off of your intended path. If you are trying to lose weight, know what might tempt you. After a long day when your will power is low, plan what you will do when you come home and you want to eat everything in sight. Likewise, if you are trying to complete a task on your computer and keep visiting distracting websites, one strategy might be to block those sites before you even get started (There are programs now available that will block sites for any length of time).
3. Copy or find a mentor or coach that can help you reach your goal. Spend time around people who have successfully achieved what you want to achieve. It saves you from having to work out the physics of doing a completely novel behavior. You will have more brain power available to create something new from that existing model.
4. Surround yourself with others who are trying to achieve a similar goal. We tend to think, act, and feel like those around us. Our brains are equipped with mirror neurons . Some of these neurons are focused on identifying the goal people are trying to achieve and how those individuals are achieving it. One of the best ways to learn is by observation.
5. Keep your eye on the prize. Having a solid sense of what you want for yourself in the future is key. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex helps with goal planning and making long term decisions. Having your “future self” vision well-articulated can help keep you on track too.