The art and science of achieving goals

Apparently, most new year resolutions have fallen by the wayside by February, so what can March offer us? Is it better to sit back and wait for another year before making a new resolution, a new commitment to move closer to the life we really want? How about making a new resolution just for March?

If you’re still going strong with your commitment for the year, you might know that achieving goals is healthy for your brain. Why is that?

Well, you see it comes down programming our brain neutrons. When we do something daily (like mindfully washing our hands) or once a week (like a class) – every time we achieve the goal our wonderful brain get an injection of dopamine, also known as ‘The Happy Hormone.’
Dopamine instantly gives us a happy feeling in our bodies, mine is a bit like butterflies in my belly or a tingling all over. A feeling of JOY, of achievement, of having done something great.

But what happens when we don’t achieve what we set out to do?
For me, the ‘I told you so’ and ‘what’s the point I’m useless anyway’ voice start to gather momentum in my head. I call this voice ‘The Mind Monkeys’ because – unless I become aware of what they’re saying – this voice will reach a crescendo that reminds me of the choir of the hundreds of monkeys in the forest on Bali who stole my hat. I liked that hat. Monkeys have no use for hats, give me back my hat. They never did. Monkeys, as we know, will never do what we ask them unless we train them.

So the first step on achieving goals, for me, is to tame The Mind Monkeys, to becoming aware of what they’re saying and training them to quiet down. This is the core of mindfulness.

It’s true for most that our internal dialogue speaks harsher to us then we do to anyone else. So when we miss out on achieving our goals we can become our own worst critic. Without that injection of dopamine we train our brain to believe we can’t achieve, we’re not good enough. See, I told you so, what’s the point anyway right? We’re on a vicious circle.

This is why I make my goals very simple and the steps to achieving them small. This year I have only one resolution, – to practice. Practice listening to the Mind Monkeys and quiet their choir, practice moving in a mindful way, practice getting into the flow of writing, and to practice kindness – mostly – kindness to myself. Which might sound selfish, but I’ve discovered that when I’m happy it rubs off on everyone around me, because I have more to give and less to complain about.

So how do I practice exactly? First of all, I need reminders. Someone suggested setting a chime on my phone. I tried that and it worked – sometimes. Mostly though, just the act of picking up my phone sent me down the social media rabbit hole, bad idea. In fact, I’ve switched off all my phone notifications, even though those little pings, when someone like or comment on one of my posts, gave me that dopamine injection my brain loves. Now I use water to remind me. Water is a constant I’m my day. I brush my teeth, I shower, I peel potatoes and do the dishes, I pour a glass of water, I wash my hands, oh so many times a day.

When I see, hear and feel the water flow, it reminds me to ask; – how do you feel right now Vig? Are the Mind Monkeys quiet? Have you moved your body so it feels good? Have you been in the flow of writing? Have you felt the tingling injection of dopamine? What are you grateful for? Then I make a mental note of what I can and will do to create more of that butterfly feeling of joy. When this involves taking a class, meeting friends, hanging out with the family or a special event I transfer it to my day-planner.

But let’s leave it there for now. Let’s just – for the month of March – commit to practicing archiving that injection of dopamine. This will program our mind to believe that we can reach our goals when we take small steps.

Until next time, think baby steps, practice taming The Mind Monkeys and know, that every time you feel that tingling butterfly feeling, you have achieved a goal.

Much Love and Light

Vig ❤️

This article was written for Maadi Messenger Issue March 2019.

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