From To Do to “Ta Da!!”

19 Mar

Sitting here with my lap top, my mind wanders to the various other tasks I’ve got on my agenda. I’ve constructed multiple lists- some I have on a note card in my purse, another I’ve drafted in the nifty electronic program called Evernote, and another I’ve nestled neatly away on the sticky notes of my desktop. What I’ve learned is never to try to keep all of your goals or to-dos tucked in the folds of your brain. You’ll forget them.

Because goal attainment and completing the tasks that are important to you requires a significant amount of brain power, developing an organized, methodical, and individually appropriate method of managing your responsibilities is crucial.  I’ll leave the organizational piece up to you, but I want to address some of the pit falls that most of you likely fall into as you work toward accomplishing your goals.

I have an obsession with how our brains work, the anomalies that occur with human behavior, and how our minds can play tricks on us.  I’ve donated my life (this is the first time I’ve stated this goal out loud) to understanding and teasing apart the intricacies of my own behavior, my thinking patterns, and the circuitous games and justifications I play in order to get my needs met and not fall apart. I have decided to call it my Break it Down in order to Not Break Down experiment. Are you with me? Today I am going to break down a few key concepts that I have found to be significant for goal attainment. Cue “Let Go” by Frou  Frou. (Great song and apt for sinking into making your life your own science experiment. Life is limitless, and so are your TA-DA’s! The link here if you are so inclined:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQckUYLUUHQ).

1.                  Identify your brain rules.

We’ve all got them, and they cause us to react in automatic ways. We’ve been using them for years, so they’re well worn and comfortable. Until we realize that we’re NOT comfortable, and that something is holding us back. That “something” is often a rule.

These rules are designed to relieve us of discomfort, to keep our lives on an even keel, and to keep us from teeter-tottering through life.  For example, as a young child you may have learned that you were to keep quiet. Adult discussion was not something you were invited to participate in. The rule is “I am to be seen but  not heard.” Something a bit more external might be that “carbs are bad.” If you’re dieting, and your weight stays the same for one week, your rule pops up and screams at you to stop eating carbs. While at some points in our lives the rules we acquired were probably effective (i.e. staying quiet prevented you from being punished; avoiding carbs did net you some weight loss that one time before you gained all your weight back and more), more often than not, they create walls in our ability to move forward with our goals.

Ever notice, however, that when you question the rule, it doesn’t feel so good? Uncertainly can rise up and slap you in the face. “Eh? What are you doing? That’s not your typical mode of operation! You sure you want to go there?” Go there. Assess whether your rule is valid, and identify the alternatives. The more you question, the more you’re living less emotionally. And that brings us to concept number two.

2.                 Enact immediate gratification annihilation!

Those pesky brain rules you’re now aware of (I hope I’ve got you reeling and digging now)…they like to persuade you into reacting without thinking. Remember that goal you had of losing weight to get healthier? That candy on your co-worker’s desk wasn’t part of your goal attainment strategy was it? My  point is this—we have to learn to think twice. Let that rule pop up, let is slap you, but then slap it back! Immediate gratification, essentially temptation acted upon to ‘feel good now’, is the perfect example of not avoiding an automatic response. What feels good now, however, won’t necessarily feel good in the future. When you’re calculating the sundae you ate and realize that you just consumed the amount of carbohydrates that  you  need for the next two days, the decision doesn’t seem so attractive. How do you go from just doing it (I love Nike’s slogan, but sometimes it’s not appropriate) to ta-da’ing it? Onward to number three.

3.                 Be value-driven!

Those of you in business will appreciate this.  In order to sell something, businesses put forth much effort to understand the values of their consumers. What is important to them? The same concept applies here.  Studies have shown that individuals who are working toward accomplishing a goal exhibit greater self-control when they get in touch with their core values.  Self-affirmation, identifying our positive characteristics, leads to a stronger defense system. Imagine this being like your suit of armor!

A study conducted in 2009 revealed that while self-control can be depleted quickly (go back to the decision you have to make about eating the candy from your co-worker’s stash), it can be replenished quickly also, by focusing on what is important to you.  Other studies have demonstrated that greater self-control is dependent on self-worth! What do you believe about yourself, and are you worth working hard for? When we’re feeling particularly compromised or vulnerable, an old brain rule might come in to visit: “I haven’t lost any weight in a week anyway. I might as well eat junk.” Time to break the rules, identify your values, refocus on the objective, and forge ahead.  That candy? I’d rather be lean and lithe so I go set a new record on the treadmill tomorrow morning!  That brings us to number four!

4.                 Counteract your propensity for intensity!

Please do not misunderstand me here. This is not a “rule”—at times, intensity is warranted. Like when I’m running on the treadmill! I’m talking more in the realm of emotional intensity. Know a drama queen in your life? Are you rolling your eyes right now? I understand.

Here’s the deal—we can make pretty poor decisions if we make them in times of emotional intensity.  That fight you had with your spouse recently when you threw out that name you swore you would never say again…..uh, yeah. You know what I’m talking about. We can be poor judges of how we might respond in an emotional situation.

The parts of our brains that are involved in higher level thinking–like when we are identifying your core values—has decided to take nap when we’re acting primitively! When we have large goals to meet, we must act intelligently.  Creating psychological distance between the present and what we want to attain, is a functional and effective method of lessening the intensity of in-the-moment emotion. For a dieter, this could mean looking forward when he’s hungry and reminding himself that he has another meal coming in a couple hours or looking forward to the free meal he has ahead in a few days. On a greater scale, he could be playing his goal out to when he has reached his 50-pound weight loss mark!

Your Ta-Da’s are sacred. Whether tiny or looming, if they are important to you, they deserve significant effort and attention.  These four factors will help you break them down for optimal attainment.  Ironic, or perhaps not so much, is the research illuminating four factors that give meaning to life.  Care to guess what they are?

  1. Purpose: developed through setting and reaching goals, which leads to a feeling of fulfillment.
  2. Values: a structure for understanding for one’s self what is important
  3. Efficacy: a sense of control and a feeling of impact on your circumstances
  4. Self-worth: being able to view ourselves positively
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