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  • Writer's pictureDonna Baines

Next Level Goal Setting

The Neuroscience of Goal Setting: How Our Brain Helps Us Achieve

This past week I spent time listening to Dr. Andrew Huberman who is a tenured professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine, discuss "How to Set & Achieve Your Goals." The information I received aligns with most of what I've been teaching for twenty years, but there were some deeply insightful moments that prove that there can be a scientific method applied to setting and achieving goals. His podcast, Huberman Lab, offers incredible advice backed by scientific research. You can listen to that episode and others here.

At the end of this article you can find a simple worksheet with infographics to help you or your child set meaningful and achievable goals.

Goal setting is a fundamental aspect of human behavior, driving us to achieve, innovate, and grow. But have you ever wondered what happens in our brain when we set a goal? Neuroscience has delved deep into this subject, revealing that specific parts of our brain play crucial roles in the process of goal setting and achievement. Let's explore the four core components of the brain's circuitry involved in this fascinating process.

1. Prefrontal Cortex (PFC)

Located at the very front of the brain, the PFC is responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, planning, and regulating behavior. It's the CEO of our brain, overseeing high-level thinking and action.

Role in Goal Setting: The PFC is where the initial spark of a goal begins. When we decide on a goal, it's the PFC that evaluates its feasibility, plans the steps to achieve it, and keeps us focused on the task at hand. It helps us prioritize our goals and avoid distractions, ensuring we stay on the right path.

2. Basal Ganglia

Deep within the brain, the basal ganglia is a group of nuclei that play a pivotal role in habit formation, motor learning, and emotion.

Role in Goal Setting: Once we've set a goal and started working towards it, the basal ganglia helps transform our actions into habits. For instance, if your goal is to run every morning, the basal ganglia will help make this activity a routine. Over time, as the action becomes habitual, it requires less conscious effort, thanks to the basal ganglia.

3. Amygdala

This almond-shaped structure is central to our emotional responses and the processing of emotions like fear and pleasure.

Role in Goal Setting: The amygdala plays a dual role. On one hand, it can act as a motivator, driving us towards goals that promise pleasure or reward. On the other, it can also be a deterrent, warning us of potential dangers or risks. When setting goals, it's essential to strike a balance between the amygdala's reward-seeking and risk-averse tendencies.

4. Hippocampus

Primarily associated with memory, the hippocampus helps in the consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory.

Role in Goal Setting: The hippocampus aids in learning from past experiences. When we set a goal, we often draw from our memories of past successes and failures. The hippocampus helps us remember the strategies that worked and the pitfalls to avoid, ensuring we make informed decisions in our goal-setting journey.

In essence, these four components of the brain work in harmony to facilitate the process of goal setting:

-The Prefrontal Cortex sets the stage, helping us decide on a goal and plan our approach.

- The Basal Ganglia ensures that our actions towards the goal become consistent and habitual.

- The Amygdala keeps us motivated by seeking rewards and avoiding risks.

- The Hippocampus provides valuable insights from past experiences to guide our current endeavors.

Understanding the neuroscience behind goal setting can be empowering. It reminds us that our brain is naturally wired to set and achieve goals. By being aware of how these components work, we can harness their power more effectively, setting ourselves up for success in any endeavor we choose.

In conclusion, the next time you set a goal, remember that you have the most sophisticated machinery - your brain - working tirelessly to help you achieve it. Embrace the process, trust your brain's capabilities, and march confidently towards your goals.

Neuroscience Goal Setting
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Donna Baines

Baines College Consulting, LLC

Donna has 20 years of college admissions and financial aid experience. She has helped thousands of high school students all over the United States with their college and career goals.

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