Why Our Brains Like Short-Term Goals
Short-term vs long-term goals; is either better than the other?
It’s clear that short-term goals are easier to accomplish than long-term goals. But does that make them better?
For the brain, there seems to be a liking for short-term goals more. This makes it very challenging to achieve long-term goals yet they are the ones which result in more permanent changes in life.
It is for this reason that you need to break down long-term goals into short-term goals.
Still, long-term goals can be achieved and you should work towards them. This is very possible.
The brain you have is yours and that means it can do what you want it to do. As long as you are clear on what you want and you let your brain know your determination about it, it will work for you.
As we talk about the brain’s near-sightedness, you’ll understand the situation and get smarter in dealing with your brain.
You will then be able to see how the tips we’ve shared here for achieving long-term goals work. They take into account the underlying functioning of the brain and adapt them for long-term winning.
Let’s get started.
WHY SHORT-TERM GOALS?
The difference between long and short-term goals is one—the duration taken to achieve them.
For you, the whole person, this is perfectly understandable. But for your brain, this is interpreted differently.
The difference between these two goals is not necessarily about time. It’s about pain. It’s about the struggles involved.
All goals are meant to move you from one position to another. The movement comes with changes and changes cause pain. The bigger the changes, the more the pain. There will be more inconveniences and your brain doesn’t like that.
Naturally, your brain expects changes. This is covered in the field of science called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity explains how the things you do frequently become the norm. This is how you form habits. The good thing is that habits can be changed.
Watch the below short video to get an idea of how neuroplasticity works. This will help you understand what is discussed here.
What connection does this have with short-term goals?
Habits are formed through repeated actions.
And the more the habits are established, the more difficult it is to change them.
Any goal in life, short-term or long-term, can only be achieved through some changes.
Some of the action that you’re used to taking have to stop. This translates to work for the brain.
The bigger the goal, the bigger the change required. And the bigger the change required, the more work your brain has to do.
Long-term goals require bigger changes to be made compared to short-term goals.
As such, long-term goals are taken to require more work than short-term goals.
Your Brain and the Pain Theory
The theory that your brain doesn’t like hard work has some truth in it.
However, your brain remains to be very flexible. And as mentioned, it’s willing to serve you.
Take for instance what happens the first time you lift some weights. You feel some pain.
That is because the affected muscles are tearing in readiness for growth. But tearing is something the body doesn’t necessarily like.
So the muscle sends a signal to your brain and the interpretation is that you’re hurting yourself.
What do you do? You stop exercising.
In this regard, your brain is truly trying to protect you so you don’t go overboard.
But what if you want to have bigger muscles?
You will continue with exercising. You may schedule more exercises the following day, but at least you will keep going. Your brain will adapt and stop alerting you of hurt, unless you overstretch the muscle again.
This shows the brain’s ability to adapt.
Your Brain and the Short-Term Goals
With the above example of how your brain tries to avoid pain, you can see how it prefers the easy stuff. Short-term goals are easy stuff compared to long-term goals.
This is the reason you will always be advised to break down your goals.
The easier they are to achieve, the more likely your brain is to get on board.
Any time you set a big goal, like a life vision, you will often see the difficulty in achieving it. Your brain can see the forthcoming pain and wants to avoid it.
It knows well that big achievements come with big sacrifices.
And big sacrifices hurt because they force your brain to get out of its comfort zone.
For example, let’s say that you realized you’re watching too much TV. What corrective action will you take? Stop watching at once or reduce your watching by cutting down one hour per day?
Which of the two options are you likely to succeed with? Which of the two will help you achieve your goal faster?
When you choose to immediately stop watching TV, your brain will react negatively.
It will be as if it has lost something precious. The happiness derived from the entertainment will register as the loss of something important.
But gradually reducing the time spent in front of the TV is different.
You get to continue enjoying the entertainment, only that the duration is reduced.
You brain keeps adapting slowly and because it isn’t losing much, it doesn’t cause any drama.
MOVING YOUR BRAIN FROM SHORT-TERM TO LONG-TERM GOALS
Understanding this paves the way for you to tackle your life goals.
Let’s face it. You know that there are things you have to do in order to enjoy that better life you dream of. You know that breaking the big goal into smaller bits is the way to go but you still struggle.
The below tips are going to help you start doing things differently.
Keep in mind the background information of neuroplasticity which you have. That understanding is key to implementing the below tips.
Don’t Visualize Too Much
While setting or coming up with your long-term goal or vision, you do it from a picture in your mind.
Your vision is the ideal situation you want in reality. This vision must be visualized before you achieve it.
This is where it all starts.
But as necessary as this visualizing part of the journey is, it has to be carefully managed. If not well managed, it can actually stop you from achieving that goal altogether.
If you’ve been keen enough, you’ll have noticed that whenever you visualize something good, you actually feel good. The images you look at in your mind have a direct impact on you.
In other words, your imagination is strong enough to influence your emotions.
This is why fantasies can make you feel so good despite the obvious fact that they are a complete waste of time.
The fact that something impossible to achieve can get your emotions so engaged shouldn’t be ignored. It provides a peek into how your internal systems function.
As explained by psychologists, this results from the way your brain looks at imaginations.
When you imagine something, your brain takes it to be a reality.
It’s the New Social Reality
To understand this, you need to remember that your brain is visual and it depends on images to define anything.
In your normal life, whatever you refer to as “normal” is what you know to be the reality.
Your vision is always a better version of the reality you’re used to. If you’re poor now, your vision is to become rich. If you’re unhealthy, to become healthy. It is always an improved version.
When your brain sees these images of the new you, it takes them as your new social reality.
And because it’s a good reality—so good that it makes you happy—it holds on to it.
This is where the problem comes up. On one hand, the logical part of your brain will urge you to work towards bringing this to the real reality. On the other hand, the emotional part of it says you already have achieved it.
In this battle, the emotional part often wins. This is because unless you have deliberately been training your brain to make logical decisions, emotions always rule.
When your emotional brain wins this battle, it holds onto the good feelings and stops you from working since working will rob it of the good feelings.
You therefore end up taking no action.
But since life will soon continue, your brain ends up realizing that its new reality cannot stand. It doesn’t exist.
When you don’t achieve your goal, you feel bad about it.
Your brain communicates to you that you have disappointed it and you start feeling guilty of not working towards achieving your goals.
To reduce the strength of the emotional part of your brain, do not visualize the end of your goal too much.
See the picture, like it and start engaging in thoughts of what you need to do to get there.
Feed Your Brain
There is need to strengthen your logical brain to take charge over your emotional brain.
This is what is referred to as self-discipline.
If you achieve this, you’ll be able to achieve anything. You will decide that you want to start exercising and actually do it.
You’ll want to change your spending habits and accomplish that. Cut down on social media and achieve that too.
Self-discipline is not easy. It requires good amounts of determination so don’t expect quick results.
Allow yourself to go through the process and you’ll value it even more.
The most effective way to go about this is by following these three steps:
1. Set your long-term goal – the first thing to do is to set your goal. This is the destination you’re journeying towards. Once this is known, you have a clear picture of how the place looks like. It’s crucial that your goal is not vague but clear.
For example, avoid a goal like wanting to become rich. Instead, say that you want to make a minimum of $1,000 every month. You should also set a timeline for this. You can learn more about goal setting by learning how to set SMART goals.
2. Research on your goal – setting your goal isn’t all and certainly the next step is not going straight to work. The next step is to gather information about your goal. To find out how best to achieve it within the set timelines.
This requires some research. But even as you research, keep in mind that other people’s ways of achieving it may not necessarily be the best for you. So read a lot but keep an open mind. Also find out what your own abilities are. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
As you research, look out for tips offered by those who have gone ahead of you. Take note of the mistakes they made so you can avoid them. Remember how long on average it took them to make changes. Ensure you have a realistic view of the goal and what the journey is like.
3. Think about it – now it’s time to overwhelm your mind with thoughts about your long-term goal. Write notes about it and stick them where you’ll see them everyday. Make drawings about it. Talk to yourself about it. Whatever you’re doing, look for ways of incorporating it.
Remember that there are emotions and logic warring against each other. Emotions come quite instantly and powerfully but logic is built over time and it requires effort. So put in the effort and do your best to maintain it.
Emotionalize Your Goals
To help you keep the fire for your goal burning, you have to include your emotional brain into the mix.
In any case, they are both yours and you don’t want a party with one while the other sulks in resentment.
The goal is to have both gladly working together for your good. Have these as partners and see the benefits you’ll experience.
Still, don’t forget that your ultimate goal here is to train your logical brain to rule over your emotional brain.
Remember that this is actually a prerequisite for achieving your goal. You can’t go about following your emotions and expect to achieve your goals. Emotions will derail you.
How do you get emotions and logic to work together?
There are two ways of doing this. They utilize two strong emotions: happiness and fear.
This makes your success more likely.
1. Remind yourself the benefits of the goal – as you already know, your emotional brain really loves good things. So, why not treat it to that? Just remember that the treat is not about some forbidden item like a burger in case you’re trying to lose weight.
The good you’re telling yourself about here is that which is to come from achieving your goal. If for instance you want to become rich, think of the benefits of wealth. If you are philanthropic, think of the people you’ll be able to help.
If your goal is to buy a home, think of the freedom of having your own home. Think of how after several years it will have increased in value. You can even sell it and buy a cheaper one. Your home will become an invaluable asset to you.
2. Remind yourself of the consequences of not achieving the goal – the same emotional brain that loves good things, has a fear of bad things. The feeling of fear is not a welcome one for your brain.
All the same, it’s necessary to engage it on this matter. Let your brain see the dangers of not achieving the set goal. This will be the thing it wants to avoid. Your logical brain will work towards avoiding it and there will be little resistance from the emotional side.
Set the Stage Right
With your logic and emotions now being partners, you can set out on your journey. Remember to keep the two close to each other and always have them talk about your goal.
Your emotional brain will often try to stop that discussion because it doesn’t like the fact that there is work to be done. Still, keep it going. Remember this is training.
As you prepare for the action—the tasks to be undertaken, locate the venue of the action.
This is the place from where you’ll be working towards your goal. It will be different depending on what your goal is.
If you’re seeking to become rich and have decided to do so through an online business, then you need a desk. If you’re aiming at losing some weight, then you might be looking at creating an exercising area in your home.
If you can only work out at the gym, then get a special place in your home for your gym gear.
Get a gym bag, weightlifting gloves, gym clothes, towel etc. Whatever you know you’ll need, have it at hand.
In setting the stage, you’ll want to do one thing; make it easy for you to embark on the journey.
1. Get rid of distractions – there are many distraction in life. Some don’t even look like distractions. But once you get involved with them and fail in your mission enough times, you discover what they really are.
Distractions usually trigger your emotional brain and it can act with little regard to the consequences. And when distractions are plenty, you get lots of temptations. Distractions act like triggers and before you know it, you’ll have shifted from the right path.
You know yourself well enough, what is it that easily takes your mind away from what you’re supposed to do?
Social media? Then block the unwanted sites. Music? Unplug the radio’s power cable and keep it in a different room. Computer games? Uninstall them.
Whatever is standing between you and your goal should not be tolerated. Remember the benefits and consequences from the above step?
2. Keep necessary items close by – after getting rid of distractions, create a conducive environment to make it easier to reach your destination. If you want to lose weight, decide the time to go to the gym.
If in the morning, keep your gym bag at your bedroom door. There you can’t fail to see it or even “forget” it. If in the evening and you work away from home, keep it in your car’s passenger seat.
Set reminders and register at the gym so that the cost incurred adds to the pressure.
Training your brain includes providing it with the right food. Food acts as fuel for your body and your brain is a major part of your body.
You may think much about your feet or arms since they seem to do a lot of work in walking and lifting.
But have you considered that your feet cannot move without instructions from your brain? That your hands can’t lift anything without your brain’s input?
Your brain’s health is important and you should invest in it.
Fortunately, you don’t need any fancy meals to keep your brain fit. You just need health foods in the right quantities.
A simple meal plan would be to move from white grains to whole grains; from fatty foods to lean proteins. Include fruits, vegetables, nuts and lots of water.
Another important aspect of strengthening your brain is in having enough rest.
Make time for resting. Stay away from electronic devices before going to sleep. And work towards getting 8 hours of sleep a day.
Put Your Brain to the Test
The old saying that practice makes perfect has always been true. Everyone who is good at something does some practice behind the scenes.
The steps discussed in this article for helping you control your emotional brain will only work if you practice them.
And the good thing is that you don’t necessarily need a long-term goal to practice with.
Do you have any bad habits you would like to drop? Start with that.
Habits form due to the brain’s reward system.
Those habits have something about them which make your brain want more of them.
But with the insight you now have, you know that change is possible.
Get your logical brain to take control and see yourself being able to get a better lifestyle leading to achieved goals.
Your brain is flexible and can learn anything you want it to learn. This includes new ways of reasoning and making decisions.
And the best part is that training your brain can happen at any age. Your brain is ever adapting.