How to Achieve Any Goal Using One Simple Psychological Hack by Dr. Patricia Cardner
In my experience, most people are pretty good at setting goals. Most of us have long lists of goals and resolutions that we plan to achieve. We generally start off with high levels of motivation, but usually after a short amount of time, something goes awry and we stop making progress. It’s as if our energy and motivation simply fizzle out.
This begs the question. Why is it so easy to set goals and yet so hard to actually achieve them? And, is there anything we can do to help the process along? It turns out there is a relatively simple tweak that you can use that has been scientifically shown to make goal achievement exponentially more likely. Before you can put this tweak into use, it is useful to consider some of the main reasons why goal pursuit and attainment is so challenging.
We fail to set compelling goals. You need to know what exactly it is you want to achieve and having a compelling reason for why it is important to you will make its achievement more likely. If at all possible, set goals that are personally meaningful and compelling to you.
Identify likely obstacles. While it is easy to put our focus on how lovely it would be attain our goals, research indicates that thinking about potential obstacles is very helpful because it allows us to come up with work-arounds. Ironically, only thinking about the benefits of achieving our goals actually decreases the likelihood that we will attain them.
The most common obstacle is that we don’t remember to take action on our goals. Most of us have goals and aspirations, but we don’t necessarily keep them at the top of our conscious awareness. It is easy to get busy and have the day slip by with no meaningful progress towards our goals.
Another obstacle is feeling like you don’t have enough time. Many of us believe that we need large blocks of uninterrupted time to make significant progress towards our goals. What we don’t realize is that there are small windows of time during our day that would naturally lend themselves to some goal pursuit, should we recognize them and simply take action.
We just don’t feel like it. Sometimes we remember our goal, recognize that there is a bit of time to work with, but we just don’t feel like doing so. We give in to feel good instead of buckling down. There is a natural tendency to prefer short-term gratification over long-term benefits. Social media, video games, and a myriad of other fun things steal our attention away from our goals.
Old habits die hard. It is surprisingly difficult to override an old habit with a new one. All habits are comprised of highly developed neural networks. Every time you engage in a thought or behavior, a group of neurons fires in your brain. Neurons that fire together wire together, such that the more times they fire, the more you build up that particular network. Because our brain prefers the path of least resistance, the ingrained, habitual network is the most likely candidate for firing. This is why we show a clear preference for old, ingrained habits over new ones.
So as you can see, the deck is pretty well stacked against you in terms of making behavioral changes that will lead to you achieving your goals. That is unless you make it easy on yourself to consciously engage in your new target behaviors.
Dr. Peter Gollwitzer, a research psychologist at New York University, has been studying this conundrum for years and he has developed a simple procedure that can help you overcome all of the abovementioned obstacles so that you can make progress towards your goals.
In order to turn your goals into a reality, you need to make a very specific plan to take action. This specific plan is called an implementation intention. According to Dr. Gollwitzer, an implementation intention is a conscious pre-decision about when and where you will complete your goal behaviors.
It consists of a situational cue that triggers you to engage in a planned response that is designed to help you achieve your goal. Your situational cue could be an internal state (a strong feeling) or something external (a particular time, place or object). Implementation intentions take the form of an if-then statement. The “if” portion of the statement is the situational cue and the “then” portion is your behavioral response.
Let’s suppose you have made a goal to complete a certain number of hand histories each day, but for some reason, you keep forgetting to do them. Using this technique, you need to decide on a situational cue that will let you know that it is time to do your hand histories for the day. It can be anything, but an ideal situational cue is something you do everyday. Drinking coffee every morning could serve as a cue. You set the intention that “if I am done with my morning coffee, then I do my hand history review.” If you’d like to do your reviews while having your coffee, then set the intention that “if I am drinking my morning coffee, then I do hand history reviews.”
If your goal is to stop tilting, you can make an implementation intention to calm yourself immediately. It might take the form of “if I start to feel tilted, then I will immediately take 4 deep breaths.”
Specificity is everything with implementation intentions. You want to be as specific as possible about what you will be doing and what will be the trigger for you to get started. Doing so will make your decisions more conscious and research shows that people who make and use implementation intentions show increased motivation and decreased procrastination. If you would like to double your chances of reaching your goals, I urge you to take the time to write out some implementation intentions.Dr. Patricia Cardner is author of: PEAK POKER PERFORMANCE and POSITIVE POKER