The Secret to Setting Long Term Goals

3. Reward the Effort and Not the Goal

It’s important to set goals so you have something concrete to work towards and so you feel a sense of purpose.

But huge, long-term goals can become overwhelming and anxiety-inducing.

You might feel like they’re too far away, too challenging, and you’re unsure about your progress.

Trying to keep yourself motivated and increasing your dopamine with that goal in mind can be tough.

For example, say you’ve just joined the workforce and your long-term goal is a promotion.

You anticipate this promotion and at first that expectation of reward keeps driving you forward.

However, if you don’t see that reward over a period of time, you might experience a reward prediction error that we discussed in part 1 of the article.

You might end up losing steam partway through your pursuit of your goal.

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This is why it’s important to subjectively attach your sense of reward to the journey, and not specifically the destination.

When you’re working hard, rather than seeing it as a means to an end, allow yourself to enjoy the process of hard work.

Take joy and pride in the effort you’re putting in.

One way of doing this is by rewarding the harder steps of your pursuit toward a goal, using intermittent reward scheduling.

Give yourself a treat – maybe a few hours off, a massage, an ice cream, or doing anything that brings you joy.

Just remember not to do this every step of the way -your brain responds best with intermittent rewards as you are setting your long term goals and achieving them.

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

When you’re working toward a huge milestone, things won’t go exactly according to plan.

And when they don’t, you might experience stress and frustration.

In fact, this stress and frustration might even cause you to quit.

But guess what? Making mistakes is one of the best ways you can create opportunities for learning.

setting long term goals

If you’re simply doing the same things over and over again, you’re reinforcing the already existing neural circuits in your brain.

You’re not allowing your brain to grow and develop, or create opportunities for neuroplasticity. This refers to your brain’s ability to learn and adapt to new information and experiences.

However, when your brain detects mistakes, and you begin to feel frustrated, it creates the perfect conditions for neuroplasticity.

Your nervous system realizes there’s a gap between what you’re doing and what you’re trying to do.

It then starts to harness its resources to try and reduce this gap.

Your adrenaline and acetylcholine levels go up.

Adrenaline makes you extremely alert, tuned into your environment and ready to respond quickly.

Acetylcholine sharpens your focus on what you’re doing, by magnifying the signals you detect from your object of focus and dampening other interfering signals.

When you succeed in narrowing the error margin even a little, you release dopamine!

So, again, this is where you use the subjective nature of dopamine to your advantage.

When you hit a wall in your progress, and feel frustrated, keep going.

Remind yourself that the more you practice, the more you try the specific thing you’re getting wrong, the more your nervous system automatically narrows the error margin.

Tell yourself that mistakes actually help you learn better, and are a sign of progress rather than a roadblock!

There you have it – the secret to setting long term goals! As the Nike saying goes – just do it!

Pat Wyman is the CEO of,, best selling author and an internationally noted brain and learning coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, including Total Recall Learning™.

She is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

Contact Pat to find out more about the Brain Advantage 2.0 Learning and Career Assessment and customized faster learning programs for professionals and students.

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