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Albert Einstein said “If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.” He had a point: Goals give us something to work towards. They provide structure, framework and purpose to all of the things we do in our daily lives.

Plus, these days there’s a lot of research to suggest that people who set goals are generally happier, and less prone to depression. There are two primary reasons for this. Firstly, people who set goals are usually following their dreams and pursuing their passions (which creates a sense of enjoyment). Secondly, people who set goals tend to be motivated by a sense of achievement (which contributes to feelings of self-worth).

Some people are just naturally goal-oriented. They like to tick things off ‘to do’ lists and work through plans. Other people like to live life with a bit more flexibility adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach, before making too many commitments.

Regardless of what kind of personality you have, goal setting is good for you. And here’s why:

Setting goals works with your brain’s Reticular Activating System (RAS). This is the automatic mechanism inside your brain that brings relevant information to your attention. When it’s in use, RAS helps us to naturally gravitate towards the information and ideas that we’re interested in.

RAS operates a bit like a filter between the two parts of the brain – the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. It takes instructions from your conscious mind and sends them to your unconscious mind. A perfect example is when you’re considering buying a new car. Have you ever noticed that, suddenly, the type of car you really like appears everywhere? All of the time?

This is your RAS at work. It’s a clever automatic mechanism inside your brain that brings relevant information to your attention. It’s a little bit like a radar … and it gravitates your focus to things you’re captivated by and curious about.

Goal setting also gives you a positive attitude, instead of wondering ‘if’, by deciding to do something, you’ve already taken the first – most important – step.

RAS and goal setting

Since the role of RAS is to select information from your environment that is valuable to you and bring it to your attention, it plays a vital part in your ability to achieve your goals … helping you to find the information, people and ideas that will help you to achieve them. If you’ve never thought about RAS like this before, then try it. You might want to land a banking client, or reach a financial target, or earn enough money to attend a conference in the US, or renovate to achieve your dream kitchen. Whether personal or business, the trick to setting goals for yourself is to set SMART goals.

First you have to know what you want?

S – Specific: Keep your goal simple and focused, rather than wordy and vague. Be very specific about the outcome you want (who, what, where and why)

M – Measurable: How will you know when you have reached your goal? What will be different? Can you track the progress of your goal?

A – Achievable: Is your goal within your reach? Do you have the right resources, skills and knowledge to achieve your goal?

R – Relevant: Is your goal worthwhile and is it relevant towards your life’s purpose?

T – Timely: Set a date to your goal. This creates a sense of urgency and creates movement forward towards your final outcomes.

The best way to get started is to review your goals twice a day – first thing when you wake up, and when you’re going to bed. Some people like to set up Pinterest accounts, or traditional hand-made ‘vision boards’ full of powerful images and words that help to reinforce what they want to achieve. Not all people need these visually articulated stimuli though, and for those people it is enough to sit quietly and conceptualise, giving the picture in their imagination as much detail as possible.

Whichever way you choose to do it, doesn’t matter. The important thing is to do it, daily. Because when you spend time creating and contemplating your goals, you’re ‘checking in’ with your RAS system, programming it to send you clues when appropriate information related to your goals is in your vicinity. This way, you can be alert to information and opportunities that will move you forward on your desired path towards your goal.  And, the more you use your RAS system, the more honed it will become!

You’ll be amazed at how easily and effectively it works.