The science behind setting and achieving big goals

What do you envision the moment will look like? The moment when you’ve accomplished something truly great — something you’ve dreamed about and hoped you’d achieve for a long, long time. Surely you have an image of this in your mind, right? I do. I play it back in my imagination several times each day.

Oddly enough — or maybe not so odd — I’m there on my own. Alone.
I raise my arms in exultation to the sky, sun on my face, chills down my body, and it’s there in that moment that it hits me: all the hard work, sweat, tears, moments of anxiety, fear, frustration, doubt, anger, hopelessness, happiness, joy, faith and encouragement were worth it.

These things playback in my mind for what feels like an eternity but it all happens in just a few, fleeting seconds.

‘I did it,’ I think to myself.

For me, that moment is having my book arrive on The New York Times “Bestsellers List,” and knowing that my message meant something to thousands of people. That it added value to their lives.

What does that moment look like for you? What is that big goal you have?
It’s so important to begin with the end in mind — to have a vision of the big goal you’re looking to accomplish. This is what makes the process easier to work through — both on good days and bad. It’s equally as important to be discerning about which goals you choose, says New York Times bestselling author, James Clear. He outlines the importance of pruning your goals and focusing “ruthlessly” on just one or a few:

“Our goals… need to be consistently pruned and trimmed down. It’s natural for new goals to come into our lives and to get excited about new opportunities. If we can muster the courage to prune away a few of our goals, then we create the space we need for the remaining goals to fully blossom. Full growth and optimal living require pruning.”

So, get clear on exactly which goals and dreams you want to focus on. Science shows our minds are much more capable when we reduce the variety of choices. We’re set up for success when we truly take ownership of something and make it mission-based. That’s how to truly achieve your goals.

The Endowment Effect

There is true power and scientific correlation behind taking full ownership and commitment to setting goals. This is called “the endowment effect” which means we integrate our sense of identity — and I’d further say, purpose — into setting goals. Vanessa Van Edwards, an author and speaker, writes about this further:

“Cornell University researchers showed the endowment effect with a clever experiment. First, researchers gave participants coffee mugs and offered to trade them chocolate for their mug. Almost none of the participants wanted to trade. Next, researchers reversed the trial. They gave students chocolate and asked them to trade for the coffee mugs. Again, very few wanted to trade. This is the endowment effect in action. It was about what they already had, not about the actual objects. When we take ownership of something we work to keep it.”

This ownership is essential. It really means that we go “all in” and that sense of commitment drives action.

Your version of “miracle”

“It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man (or woman) can sincerely try to help another without helping him (or her)self.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Kurt Russell, in his outstanding portrayal of Coach Herb Brooks, for the movie Miracle, gives us some deeply human insights into what it means to achieve our biggest dream. His reaction after winning the incredible 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey match against the Soviet Union expresses emotion in its rawest form.

For some historical background, the U.S. ice hockey team, composed entirely of amateur college students, defeated the world-best Soviet Union hockey team in the semifinal round of the 1980 Winter Olympic ice hockey tournament. It’s one of the greatest sports victories (and simultaneous upsets) of all-time.

Herb Brooks had poured so much of himself into building up the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual chops of this group of 18–22-year-old men, constantly telling them that they could be great if they worked hard and wanted it badly enough.

In this moment, he realizes his dream, and yet he’s literally beside himself. He’s so overcome with joy, happiness and pride in his players, he needs time to soak it all in and immerse himself in the exceptional magnitude of this emotional, tremendous accomplishment.

I bring this up to point out his level of commitment, immersion in the moment and mission-driven focus enabled him to achieve these big goals. But it’s also imperative to point out the happiness he felt. Happiness literally leads to success. There’s research to prove it.

Dr. Emma Seppälä of Stanford University and author of The Happiness Track writes, “Success looks different for each person — for one, success is being able to attain a professional goal, for another, it’s a personal goal — like being a terrific parent. Either way, if you prioritize your happiness, you will actually be more productive, more creative, more resilient, more energized, more charismatic and influential. You will have more willpower and be more focused, with less effort.”

Happiness fuels productivity, resiliency, energy and creativity. Don’t ever sacrifice your happiness.

Concluding Thoughts

When you begin setting goals, remember the importance of mindset, commitment and purpose in what you’re doing. Get clear on exactly what you want, but just as important, eliminate the less prioritized goals that may hold you back from achieving your biggest goals.

Let happiness fuel your journey. And never, ever give up on setting big goals. Let’s connect via Linked in where I share highly-productive best practices to thousands of followers.

This article originally appeared in Medium.