How Your Brain Sabotages Your Goals

January 8, 2018 • 3 minute read • by Saeed

“Commitment in the face of conflict produces character.” ~ Unknown

Nearly half of all Americans make a New Year’s resolution.

Nearly half fail at achieving their newly minted goals each year.

The inevitable initial spike in activity is usually followed by a drop in motivation levels. Soon enough, more days at the gym give way to that nice looking piece of chocolate cake – even when you stand in front of the mirror and can see progress being made as evidenced by your new waist line.


Research has discovered that we are all too eager to use progress as an excuse to slack off. In practical terms, this means one step forward gives you permission to take five steps back. Your brain’s reward system kicks in and wants to be indulged. It convinces you that you deserve that yummy piece of cake.

When dieters were offered a thank-you gift of either an apple or a chocolate bar in goal setting studies, 85% of the self-congratulating participants who were informed about their progress chose the chocolate bar over the apple!

That’s not to say that progress is in and of itself a problem. But rather, how you feel about your progress and what you choose to do with the information you receive about your progress may very well be a huge problem. In other words, making progress on goals actually encourages people to engage in goal-sabotaging behavior.

Ironically, when we stand in front of the mirror and find that we can’t pull our jeans up even though we’ve been spending regular time at the gym, signals a lack of progress and increases motivation to do more. By God! It runs counter to everything we believe. Focusing on progress can actually hold us back from success!

Focus on Why Not How Much

It turns out that commitment to the goal is even more important than progress being made. Reminding yourself why you set the goal in the first place, is a more motivating and self sustaining force for positive change because it changes how you feel about the reward of self-indulgence. We are more disciplined about our goals when our deeper commitment is in play than when our more superficial and ephemeral progress toward the goal is the focus. Commitment fosters accountability. Progress fosters indulgence.

Remembering the “why” will also help you see and act upon other opportunities as they arise. We fail at our goals for a variety of reasons. We may have set the goal too high or we may lack a system to achieve the goal. But at the most fundamental level, we fail when we aren’t that committed to the goal in the first place.

Focus on your commitment and you’ll achieve everything you want.

Good luck.

 Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post. If you found it helpful, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or subscribe to read exclusive content on my BLOG.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal and professional development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By liking, commenting, sharing, and following, you are encouraging me to keep going. It is my direct feedback loop that tells me that I am providing value to you.

I also love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Last thing, if you liked this post, consider checking out my other recent posts for inspiration and concrete actions steps to become more effective at work and life.



©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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