Putting Goals Into Motion: How to Train Your Brain for Progress

Most of us can relate to the surge of adrenaline that comes with goal setting. That first step toward manifesting your dreams – deciding to make personal development a priority – is exciting. At this point, you are living in all of the possibilities of what will come on the other side of achievement.

However, all too often we settle down in that land of “what ifs” and let eons pass before getting our hands dirty. This is understandable: it is a place that feels equally safe and terrifying. By design, it encourages stagnance: move on to reality where there is still work to be done and risk failing, OR stay in dreamland and fail by never trying… Yikes!

Good news: if you are struggling with a fear of commitment (to your goals), there are a few strategies you can adopt today. (Deep breath.) Let’s break them down.

Accept the Unknowns

Looking ahead into the Great Unknown can be pretty intimidating. However, if you start by planning your goals out effectively (we recommend the SMART model) with incremental benchmarks and KPIs for measuring your progress, you can at least get on the road with a rough draft of how things should play out.

This is a vital first step before mobilizing any initiative: you have to have a clear roadmap toward where you want to go, and by when. I.e., I want to be doing this thing by this month so I can ultimately be here by the end of the year, vs: I want to be here by the end of the year…here goes nothing.

*But* be careful not to obsess over the details too much. Once you lay out a solid trajectory, it is time to take that first big bold leap.

New things – habits, behaviors, risks – will always be scary and/or difficult to pursue (even if they seem highly appealing).

There is always going to be hesitation before you begin, simply by nature of the infinite things that we could never account for in that initial planning phase.

Pro-tip: don’t sit around waiting for that feeling to go away, because odds are: it never will. In the wise words of Cachet Prescott, one of our community mentors at The Forem…you simply have to “Do it scared.

Earn Your Own Trust

Of course, that first big leap has to be the first of many if you are going to pick up the momentum it takes to stay on track.

The most common fear that holds us back from pursuing our goals is simply that we won’t get around to doing the thing (or that our commitment will be short-lived). We won’t have time, we won’t be able to give it our full, A+ attention, etc…which are usually self-fulfilling prophecies.

Fun fact: “self-trust” is something we must actively cultivate. We learn to expect certain outcomes from ourselves over time: will we or will we not stick to it? Especially if we are frequent one-way fliers to the Land of What-ifs, our brains might learn not to expect much from our own initiative. Your subconscious narrative evolves to go straight from “Great! We set a goal! We have a dream!” to “Ok, that’s good enough. We’re not actually going to try though, right?

Take a moment to assess your own personal sense of self-trust…

It is ok if your track record is less than reliable. Just as you unknowingly trained those self-limiting beliefs, you can train your brain to invert them. The more you surprise yourself by actually taking action, the easier it will be to get your whole being on board and into motion when you find yourself at square one.

In other words, we have to learn that we are capable of success, and once we do, that sense of internal recognition will act as fuel for bigger risks and bolder goals.

Challenge: next time you succeed in fulfilling a new habit or making a move in the direction of your goal, take a moment to sit with that feeling of accomplishment (no matter how small). Turn inward to express gratitude for the energy and/or bravery it took to achieve, and to legitimize the fact that you are fully capable of doing it again. Your brain will thank you later.

Forgive, Renew, Forgive

When you are in the plotting phase, everything appears before you exactly as you want it to be. But in reality, once you get to work on putting that plan into practice, things are liable to get messy. In the throes of this messiness, there is a high likelihood that you may fail at upholding every bullet point of your initial plan.

Important: this does not mean that you are a failure or that you have failed at achieving your goals. It simply means that either because of human error or uncontrollable circumstances (a shift in your family life, a re-org at your company, a global pandemic…) you are experiencing a set-back.

It is a fact of life; we cannot control exactly how things will play out in our lives. We can only prepare and put our best foot forward. If you can look back and say you did just that much, brava! You did enough.

When we spend our time getting hung up on the things we did or didn’t do, or ruminating on the failures we may have experienced in the past, we drain ourselves dry of the energy it takes to step up to bat. Worse yet: sometimes we hold on to past failures for years as ways to rationalize our hesitance toward taking the meaningful risks that will ultimately lead us to our dreams.

Instead of beating yourself up over every shortcoming, pause to reflect (and pinpoint any lessons you can take away from that failure), take a beat to forgive yourself, and return to the energy that set you in motion in the first place: that sweet, start-of-the-road, goal setting glow.

Not only does it feel a whole lot better emotionally than crying over ice cream (or at least more than a pint..), it actually strengthens your brain every time you pause and set sights on that next thing.

This is also another reason why multiple, short-term goals are more effective than grandiose “dreams” with loose deadlines. By creating a steady rhythm of goal setting, risk taking, achievement (that you tried the thing, regardless of it you “failed” or “succeeded”), repeat…you become more resilient over time, ultimately cycling quicker and quicker through each step.

Over time, you will find that with each new initiative, “doing it scared” is a little less scary.