Thursday, August 2, 2012

3 Psychological Barriers Keeping You From Your Goals

An emotional man grabs his friend in a burst o...
An emotional man grabs his friend in a burst of happiness in Gastown in Vancouver (Photo credit: Wikipedia).
by Sean Dominguez

While conducting market research for a mobile app that my startup company is currently developing, 85% of survey respondents said that they have personal goals in life.

This shouldn't be surprising: setting a goal and achieving it is perhaps one of the most fulfilling activities that life has to offer.

The problem is that people - almost inevitably - adopt certain forms of thinking over the course of their lives that completely undermine their abilities to reach the goals that they set out to achieve.

Why does this happen? Is there something that happens to our brains as we age? If so, is it chemical or is it learned? Is it just something that happens when humans learn of the callousness of "the real world"?

Before I tell you that it's all in your head, that you have nothing to worry about, and that the three psychological concepts that I'm about to inform you of will change your life forever, I want you to think of a hobby you adopted in your childhood. It could be anything. From skateboarding to drawing cartoons to choreographing dance numbers, what is something you really, really enjoyed doing? Keep it in mind as you read this list.

1) Happiness as being on the other side of achievement

I can tell you with certainty that this mindset is the biggest killer of goal achievement, guaranteed. Think about the goals you want to achieve today. Whether it's running a marathon, writing a book, or playing the guitar, thinking that happiness is only on the other side of some sort of achievement or validation is precisely what is sabotaging your ability to meet that goal.

Shawn Achor, a prominent psychologist and author of the book, "The Happiness Advantage", found that people were 31% more productive when they were happy versus neutral or unhappy.

Think about the last time you set out to achieve your goal. Were you frustrated that you weren't getting anywhere? Did you wish you had started pursuing it earlier? Did you feel unaccomplished? Did you even enjoy the time you spent attempting to achieve your goal?

There's a reason why happiness leads to better goal achievement: a happy mind does not compare itself to others, does not regret, and certainly does not spend its energy and focus on anything besides keeping itself happy.

Compare it to that hobby you had as a kid. Did you care whether or not your doodles would be up in the Louvre? Did you care that you weren't going to make money off of your hobby? Did you focus on anything besides having fun and getting better?

The way you answer these questions should paint a very clear picture of why you have not been able to achieve your goals and how having fun and thinking like a child again can help you get where you want to be.

2) Locus of Control

Locus of control is a psychological theory that describes the degree to which people believe that outcomes in their life are the result of their own actions (internal locus) vs. the result of external sources (external locus). Not surprisingly, when all other factors are held constant, people who have an internal locus of control tend to have more self-esteem and are likely to be higher achievers.

Again, compare your current thoughts in achieving your goals against your beliefs as a child. As a child pursuing your happiness through various hobbies, did you ever believe that your efforts were in vain or that your aspirations were useless? Were you a voracious learner fascinated with everything surrounding your hobby or were you only concerned with getting quick results?

3) "You can't teach an old dog new tricks"

Or can you? A study was done on the brains of cab drivers in London that just might change your mind. In case you didn't know, hopeful cabbies must pass an extremely difficult exam called "The Knowledge" to drive one of London's famous black cabs. Following 16 drivers over the course of 2 years, X-Rays revealed that cabbies who passed the exam had a larger hippocampus (the part of the brain associated with memory) than control subjects.

This study not only challenges conventional wisdom about being set in your ways as an adult, it shatters it. What it says is that you can learn and achieve whatever your brain desires, no matter how old you are, and no matter how you perceive your current qualifications. You can literally will your brain into changing into the brain it needs to be to achieve your goal - if you want to.

Whatever you take from these tips, just remember this: you have to believe in whatever you're doing. The running example through this post and throughout many self-help books is the power of harnessing the inner-child in you.

While advice like this is perhaps simplistic and perhaps optimistic to a fault, it says a lot about the universal factors that contribute to happiness and fulfillment. It's not the promise of social incentives that drives great achievement, it's the commitment to self-excellence, happiness, and curiosity that does.

Sean Dominguez is a blogger (, co-founder of the smartphone application Breadcrumbs (, and self-improvement enthusiast. His topics of interest are startups, entrepreneurship, and changing the way people think about their own limitations.

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