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Yes, it’s that time of year again with increasingly frenetic activity to getting everything done that needs to be completed before Christmas: organising cards, presents and food, attending Christmas parties, perhaps looking forward to some well earned time off and thinking about what the New Year may bring.

Now is also the perfect time to be considering what you want to achieve in 2014. What goals are you thinking of? What new challenges do you anticipate? And how are you going to achieve these?

Do you set yourself goals?

Goal setting is a very useful tool to provide clarity around where you are heading in relation to work, life or love. It can also provide a useful framework to help you navigate your way past obstacles or changing circumstances that may come your way. Some people say having goals provides them with purpose and meaning.

But it is very important that goal setting is done well, because if used badly, it can be a demotivating and demoralising experience.

This week I realised a goal that I had set myself just a few months back. No, not a life-changing or extraordinary goal, a personal goal to prove to myself I had the physical robustness and strength to complete an ocean swim.

Maintaining physical (and brain!) fitness is something I consider important for my personal and mental wellbeing.

The goal was to complete the 1.6km Rottnest Swim-Through race. I had previously done the race back in 2006 not long after first starting to learn to swim. As one friend kindly pointed out, I was a few years younger then. Cheeky! But did I still have the stamina and more importantly the will-power to put in the training and time to do it?

Setting a goal is a challenge for our brain because it involves future planning and and hence, merely abstract thought. Our brain much prefers concrete facts because that provides us with “certainty”.

The brain wants to keep us safe and treats anything new or uncertain as a threat and potentially dangerous. Being basically a prediction machine our brain seeks the security of patterns that are familiar. So a goal, especially if it is a particularly big, hairy, and audacious goal can set the brain into a bit of a tail-spin.

The trick therefore, is to convince your brain, that all is safe and turn the future abstract goal into a concrete thought. This is where visualisation comes in – you imagine yourself as having already completed the goal. Fait accompli. Because our subconscious is involved in over 90% of all our decision making, creating the vision or picture of our goal using our imagination as having already been achieved it, helps to keep our prefrontal cortex, our conscious mind available and engaged to focus on the task at hand.

The second component to successful goal setting is to along provide your brain with incremental rewards along the way. Dopamine is the brain’s reward, learning and motivation chemical. When you experience a reward of some kind such as a good report, a successful job application or social acknowledgement, that feeling is the consequence of more dopamine being released. Because it makes us feel good, our brain then seeks more. Hence we are more likely to continue with the same behaviour. This is what we know as motivation.

So, in my pre-race training the early goals were to swim further and faster and to notice the improvement over the weeks as they passed. Sure there were weeks when the training wasn’t as robust or as successful, but overall my continuing progress helped drive the momentum forward instead of allowing myself to fall foul to self-doubt or giving up.

When we get things “right” our plastic brains learn from the experience. That’s why it is important to make sure that what you practice is the practice of doing something right. Because if you continue to practice a fault, the fault remains, and you don’t learn from the experience.

If your intention is to set yourself some goals for 2014, my suggestion is to limit the number to no more than three or four at most and to be as specific as you can. The more detail you can paint into your goal, the easier it is to work towards. But don’t worry if your start off with only fuzzy ideas about what your real goals might be. By following your chosen strategy and framework, as you move closer, the goal will become much clearer.

Other than ensuring you physically write your goals down (with a pen) because that helps to embed the intention more firmly, the one other thing to do, is to have someone coach or mentor you: that other person who will support you and hold you accountable to your goals.

Of all the successful people I have known including the mentors in my own life, they have all had their own mentors and coaches as well.

Success is a team sport and the win always so much sweeter when shared.
As “Team NJ” (Nicki and Jenny) on Race Day we had each other as support, and of course we had our brilliant swim coach Amanda who was with us every stroke of the way as well. I was so delighted to see Nicki, who in her first ever Ocean Race swim finished strongly with a brilliant time. Go Nicki !

Going it alone can be a hard and lonely journey. Having someone to bounce ideas off, to keep you accountable and to support you, especially when you feel a bit tired and want to take the easy route instead, allows you to reach your target and a lot sooner.

Who do you have as your mentor? Do you have one particular person you reach out to, or do you have several?

What success or accomplishment can you attribute to having worked with the support of a coach or mentor?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next time,


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

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