by Tim Brunson, PhD
The one area in which most people consistently fail involves setting and achieving goals. Whether this involves projects around the house, education, or changing bad habits, en vogue methods of goal setting and achievement rarely help us achieve the intended results. Even though I agree that it is essential to consciously select, write down, and proclaim objectives to others, from that point forward many find insurmountable difficulties causing delays or total abandonment of their dreams.
When I worked in sales for a major US corporation I was told: "Make a plan. Work the plan. And, throw off discouragement." Yet, despite this formula working for a few high achievers, for the rest of us it seem just way too difficult. Furthermore, while I have seen many successes using the modeling techniques promoted by my fellow Neuro-Linguistic Programming trainers, likewise in many cases that strategy also misses the mark.
To understand the major obstacle to goal achievement and how to overcome it, focus on why discouragement normally overcomes desire. In order to maintain stability in our lives, our brain is designed to resist change. A goal essentially is a change from an existing, well-established pattern. This pattern is sometimes referred to as our "model of the world."
New perceptions – to include goals that bubble up in our imagination – represent challenges to this model of the world. When our perceived experiences fit within our existing understanding, they are pretty much ignored – which is why camouflage works. Yes, the brain excels most when it notices differences and tends to tune out the expected and routine. Those perceptions that conflict with previously established mental patterns cause an opportunity for learning, adaptation, and transformation. Otherwise, they are rejected. Unfortunately, most of these mental inputs fail because they are not significantly potent enough to cause transformation. To do so they must be strong enough to overwhelm the brain's natural tendency to hold on to comfortable routines, values, attitudes, and behaviors. Thus when we cannot overcome this resistance – which is a condition that is normally referred to as discouragement – then we fail to achieve our goal.
The problem is that just about everyone uses the wrong strategy when it comes to overcoming discouragement. For most of our lives we were taught that to achieve anything we must try harder. And, this is exactly why we fail. Trying, which by its nature includes the probability of failure, just doesn't work. Making "failure is not an option" commitments is what is needed. However, often even this level of enthusiasm is not enough as it may serve to do little more than reinforce resistance to change.
The harder we try, the stronger we reinforce the condition from which we desire to depart. Donald Hebb, the late Canadian psychologist, called this the "use it or lose it" condition. Simply, any predominant thought results in strengthening its power by literally increasing the number of the brain's neurons and the thickness of neural networks associated with that thought. This makes the idea more powerful and efficient. Thus, the more we obsess about what we don't want – even as we are attempting to move from it – the more we increase its stranglehold. What then is the solution?
The answer lies in our ability to create alternate thought patterns without reinforcing the old negative ones. This is actually easier than one would imagine. I teach a three-step approach that includes installing the new ideas or behavior patterns, strengthening their encoding within our brains and bodies, and then establishing the skill of recalling the new thought or behavioral pattern when needed.
Let me give you an example. Suppose you have spoken English your entire life. And now you have a goal to learn to converse in Spanish. You read a few phrases in Spanish, which could be used in greeting others or asking for directions. You practice these phrases until they begin to flow in your mind. In fact, if you do so in a hypnotic state, you will find them becoming installed in your mind even faster. Then when you are in a situation, you will automatically be able to recall and use these phrases automatically.
When learning another language you will often find it uncomfortable to use foreign phrases as your mind naturally wants to revert back to your English-speaking mindset. Realize that this is a sign that you are making progress and refocus your mind on your goal. Never focus on the resistance as it will make your desire to return to the familiar even stronger and lead to your failure. Instead, recognize that the discomfort is natural and let it fade away. Focus on rehearsing your new pattern of thinking and behavior by embracing it fully. Soon your comfort level will increase. Once you get accustomed to this way of learning, you will start reinforcing your belief in your natural abilities to direct and change your life.
Human beings have always shown the intellectual flexibility to adapt to a wide range of circumstances and achieve miracles in business, the arts, and other areas of fulfillment. The level of discomfort with one's status quo prompts us to create dreams of an alternative future life. Yes, when that level of discomfort exceeds the comfort and familiarity of an existing condition, change just about always occurs. However, too many times the allure of our dreams is insufficient to overcome our desire to remain lulled by the comfort of our present condition. Therefore, the three-step approach of install, encode, and recall provides a rational goal-achieving strategy.