Do you ever wonder why some people seem to hit every goal they set, while others struggle to even take the first step towards their goals? The difference may be in the finer details of how the goal is being set.
Communication, whether with ourselves or with others, is critical in today’s society. When we are setting goals, we are communicating our wants and desires with our unconscious mind. Yet despite the importance of being able to communicate effectively, rarely are we ever taught how to communicate or what the meaning of communication is.
The majority of the population choose their words carelessly and assume that the recipient of that communication will understand what they meant.
We’re typically even more careless when it comes to communicating with ourselves, because our own brains should understand what we mean…right? Wrong. This is why 95% of the population never achieve their goals. This is why New Year’s Resolutions have a shelf life of 3-4 weeks.
We don’t communicate in words. For everything we say, the person we’re speaking to (including ourselves) gets an image in their head. How they interpret that image determines how they interpret what has been said to them. Allow me to demonstrate.
“I want to travel to an isolated beach and stay in a hut over the water for a week”. What picture do you have in your head? I’m guessing a beach, with a hut over the water. Pretty cool right? Here’s the thing, if we’re choosing our words carelessly, then we lack control over the picture that is created. This is a FATAL goal setting mistake.
Within our unconscious mind (the part of our mind that drives behaviour) is our filtering system, the Reticular Activating System, or RAS.
The RAS is like our internal GPS. When we set a goal, the RAS holds onto a picture of that goal and becomes like a homing device towards making it happen. How do you know you’re putting the right image into your RAS?
Here are 3 simple self-communication tips to ensure you set yourself up for success in achieving your goals:
1. Watch Your Mouth!
No, I don’t mean no swearing. The words we use when setting goals are critical to our success. There are certain words the unconscious mind processes in a negative fashion. The first word we need to remove from our vocabulary is “not” or any derivative of not (ie. don’t, can’t, etc). The unconscious mind is unable to process negatives.
Here’s an example. “Don’t think of a purple frog” What picture do you have in your head? A purple frog! When we use negatives in our communication, the unconscious mind has to get a picture of what we’ve said, then the conscious mind comes in and gives a new directive to picture. If we set a goal like “Don’t have any debt” or “I don’t want a partner who cheats on me” then we give the RAS a picture of what we don’t want. The RAS then sets out to find us what we don’t want as quickly and easily as possible. Instead focus on what you do want!
Another word to eliminate from your goal setting (and your vocabulary in general) is “try.” To the unconscious mind, try means “this isn’t important enough to commit to so I have an excuse to fail.” Anyone who “tries” to do anything rarely succeeds. Instead, remove your excuses and commit!
“Aim higher. Stay focused.” – Brandon Adams
2. Be specific!
We’ve all heard of setting SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely). Being specific when communicating your goals is particularly important to the unconscious mind.
If the goal or end result is too ambiguous, the unconscious mind won’t be able to create a picture to move towards. In the absence of a specific picture, it will continue to move towards whatever beliefs or programming is already installed in the unconscious.
For example, setting a goal to be “financially free” won’t move the RAS into action. Instead, set a specific dollar amount you want to see in the bank! Paint a clear picture for your unconscious mind to grasp. It’s worth spending time creating this picture so it’s as clear as possible. You can even print out pictures if you need to!
3. Get Emotional!
Emotions drive our unconscious minds into action. If the goals you set aren’t making you emotional (in a good way) then you’re unlikely to take action. At the same time, if your current situation isn’t making you experience negative emotions, you also won’t be motivated to act.
“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Tony Robbins
There are two types of goals we can set – towards motivated goals and away from motivated goals.
Away from motivated goals are when the pain or discomfort of our current situation is so intense that we have to take action.
Think about people with unhealthy habits like smoking. When they witness someone close to them die, or they have a brush with death themselves, they can easily and quickly stop smoking. People who are overweight are typically spurred into action when they are unable to fit into their wardrobe anymore.
The problem with away from motivated goals is that the motivation only lasts while the pain or discomfort is present. It’s not uncommon for someone with a weight loss goal to completely lose motivation at the halfway point because the intensity of their situation no longer overwhelms them.
Towards motivated goals focus on a reward at the end creating a strong emotion such as pride, excitement or sheer bliss.
Examples include brides wanting to look slim in their wedding dress or people who reward themselves with cars or houses remain motivated to continue taking action towards their goal. This is because even once the pain of their current situation dissipates, they are still aiming for the emotion of the reward.
It’s ok to use pain to motivate you to take action, just make sure your goal also contains towards motivation and the emotions you’ll feel once you reach the goal.
Contrary to what Freud may have caused you to believe, our unconscious mind wants to help us get what we want! We just need to communicate effectively and give our GPS (aka the RAS) the proper information so it can find the fastest, easiest route to the future we truly want!
How do you set goals and make sure you hit them? Let us know your advice below!
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Why Do We Have An Unconscious Bias and How Can We Manage It?
When I hear someone using my name once in a while throughout the conversation we are having, I cannot stop myself thinking “this person must have read Dale Carnegie’s books or must have been influenced by someone who read them…” Have you just recalled a similar moment and it felt nice?
As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and the most important sound in any language”. Why did Dale Carnegie highlight the importance of an individual’s name to that person in his “How to Win Friends and Influence People” book published in 1936?
Each and every one of us wants to feel special and unique. I guess he recommends using the person’s name in the conversation because that is one of the easiest ways to grab that person’s attention so that we can enhance the chances of getting our point across. However, I am more interested in this from the other side; hearing our names directly addresses our individuality, our need or desire to feel special and unique.
Let’s park this one for now and we will come back.
Categorization is essential to our survival
There is countless scientific research telling us about how our brains recognize similarities and put things into categories, which has been crucial to our survival in evolution and still helps us with a lot of things from learning new things to coping with the continuous influx of massive amounts of information through our senses.
The continuous influx of information is mostly handled by our subconscious mind rather than conscious. It is estimated that our brains receive about 11 million bits of information every second through our senses, of which only 40-50 bits can be processed by our conscious mind. We process more information than we are aware of. The magic here is the subconscious mind.
An example is when you are at a very loud party where you hear a lot of words flying around without you recognizing each one of them, then suddenly, you immediately catch it when you hear your name. Your subconscious had been processing all of those words, without your awareness, but informed your conscious mind when your name was out there because it was relevant to you.
In order to most effectively process this much information and inform the conscious mind with only the relevant ones, our subconscious employs categorization as one of its strategies.
When our ancestors encountered some deadly predators in the African savanna, their subconscious prompted their conscious mind to immediately fight or flight by categorizing the information gathered through their senses into “predator / life threat / take action”. Most probably we are not descendants of the ones that were frozen rather than fighting or flighting!
Although it is a completely different situation, the same strategy applied in remembering lists. Let’s look at the below two lists.
- lion, eagle, shark, leopard, hawk, whale, panther, falcon and dolphin
- lion, leopard, panther, eagle, hawk, falcon, shark, whale and dolphin
The second list is easy to remember because it is reordered into relevant groups even though the content of the both lists are identical.
Subconsciousness is the magic and categorization is one of its key strategies. It is essential to our survival, learning new skills and processing information as well as bringing back the information we had processed and stored.
This amazing skill has its drawbacks
As a result of our brains’ categorization strategy, we also categorize people, especially if we don’t know them as well as our closest ones.
Imagine I am sitting at the table next to yours while you are having your favorite coffee and working on your computer or reading your novel at your neighborhood coffee shop. I stand up, very calmly grab your bag, and start walking away. Your reaction might be quite different depending on my outfit. It could be much more vocal and harsh if I have a dirty T-Shirt and a pair of torn jeans on. However, if I have some navy colored, 3-piece suit and well-pressed white button up shirt on, you might even say something like “Excuse me, you might have picked up my bag by mistake”. (There is an experiment done by social psychologists which reported similar results)
Similarly, I would not be surprised to hear that my co-worker’s spouse is very skilled and knowledgeable in English grammar and literature because he is an English teacher. However, I would not expect it from my co-worker herself because she is an outstanding chemical engineer.
This is defined as unconscious bias or stereotyping, as a result of our subconscious brain’s categorization strategy. The outfit I have at the coffee shop impacts your response to my action, because it puts me into a different category in your mind depending on my outfit. My co-worker’s and her spouse’s backgrounds make me put them into different categories, which might mislead me sometimes.
Just like we categorize things, it is very natural that we categorize people.
The key question here for me is; how do we truly treat people as individuals so that they feel unique, just like as they would want, while we know that our brains categorize people?
We can overcome unconscious bias
Leonard Mlodinow, in his enlightening book “Subliminal”, suggests that “if we are aware of our bias and motivated to overcome it, we can.” That doesn’t mean that we need to fight our brain’s categorization strategy. We just need to employ our conscious mind more when we are working or dealing with individuals.
Our unconscious bias might tell us scientists are bunch of technical nerds who cannot understand abstract concepts that marketers are talking about or it might say that marketers are some daydreamers who need to be grounded by scientists to the real world all the time. I am an engineer and I love thinking in abstract terms and I worked with quite a lot of marketers who thought primarily in factual and concrete terms.
Spending some effort to learn more about individuals will help overcome unconscious bias. Gathering more information and qualities about them will make it easier for us to treat them as individuals rather than a member of the category we put them in our minds.
The moral of the story here is to recognize the fact that our brains do categorize, and it is essential; but also, to recognize that every individual wants to feel unique. When we appreciate these two and keep reminding them to ourselves, we are one step closer to figuring out our own way to overcome unconscious bias and treat people more like individuals.
What was the most interesting part of this article for you? Share your thoughts below!
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