Think Your Way to Success


It’s the beginning of a new year and many of us are feeling motivated to take action and make changes in our lives. However, 80 percent of people have strayed from their resolutions by the time February rolls around. The same thing can happen to your professional goals as well, and if you are a business leader this can be a disaster. Failing by February can put you on a devastating path for the entire year. Staying motivated is a skill you can develop to help you reach your goals throughout the year. Here are three tips from brain science to keep you motivated to achieve your goals all year long.

Tip 1: Make it concrete.

What is your goal for the year? Is it to be rich, famous, or successful? Those goals sound great, but really they are terrible for your brain because they are not real. That’s right. I said it: Those are dreams, not goals. Your goals need to be concrete and actionable. What does it mean to be successful? Instead of saying you want to be successful, set a goal to increase your business revenue by 15 percent over last year, to sell 20 more houses than last year, or to gain 100 more clients this year. Your brain processes concrete and abstract concepts using different neural networks. By making an abstract concept concrete, you have changed how your brain treats that information. Shifting from a goal of being successful to a goal of gaining 100 new clients in a year boosts your probability of succeeding.

Heather Collins2

Tip 2: Set Subgoals.

Humans are great at procrastinating. Waiting until November to think about your goal of gaining 100 more clients is bad for your business and bad for your brain. Procrastinating goal achievement causes stress and increases your body’s production of cortisol, a harmful hormone. Cortisol also has the undesirable effect of turning your belly’s six-pack into a keg. By breaking your large goal into smaller subgoals, you decrease stress levels and achieve goals quicker. You need to gain nine clients per month from January to November plus one in December in order to reach your goal of 100 new clients for the year. We know December is a busy month, so we rounded up on the other months and gave you a break at the end of the year. The number nine is much more approachable psychologically than the number 100. Setting smaller subgoals will keep you on track and increase your chances of succeeding in conquering your large goal.

Tip 3: Treat yourself.

Congratulations! You succeeded in attaining nine new clients this month. Now what are you going to do? Go to Disney World! Okay, maybe an epic Disney World vacation is a huge treat and likely not feasible when you reach your goal each month — but it is still crucial to reward yourself after accomplishing a subgoal. Your reward can be anything that you consider to be a treat. You can spend two hours at the beach, enjoy dinner with some friends, indulge in a spa day, or spend quality time with your furry four-legged friend.

When you treat yourself and celebrate your accomplishments, you release dopamine and activate your brain’s reward circuits, including areas like the nucleus accumbens. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, reward, desire, and motivation. When our brains are bathed in dopamine, we feel great about accomplishing our goals. This sensation leads to a desire to have another dopamine-enhanced experience and can change our behaviors. In fact, reward-seeking behavior is associated with increased levels of dopamine. This means that after celebrating an achievement, we have an increased drive to reach the next goal and a renewed sense of motivation. The more subgoals you conquer and celebrate, the more motivated you are to continue on that goal-seeking path.

Motivation is the force that propels us forward. Your motivation can grind to a halt, arresting your productivity, or it can roll like a giant boulder down a hill, allowing you to squash anything that gets in your way and race toward your goals. The choice is yours. 

We’re ready to stay motivated by making goals concrete, setting subgoals, and treating ourselves.

Bring on 2019!

Dr. Heather Collins is a cognitive neuroscientist who speaks about how brain science can help people improve business, wellness and everyday life. She is the author of numerous scholarly articles and has presented two TEDx talks. Contact her at