How to set addictive goals

Goal Setting: How to set addictive goals your brain will love

In this article, I’m going to teach you what goal setting is, exactly how to set goals and why the practice of goal setting is linked to how your brain subconsciously creates overall happiness. Most importantly, I will walk you, step-by-step, through how to create addictive goals.

Why set goals?

So let’s start with why by introducing two chemicals linked to triggering positive, or happy, emotions – dopamine and serotonin. Both not only create empowering feelings, they also are the leading culprits for making anything addicting.

Meet Dopamine, the chemical in the driver seat on your ‘reward pathway’. Also, one hell of a drug.

Dopamine is the feeling of excitement, growth, and success that is triggered when you see something you want, take the first step towards what you want, are close to achieving your goal, obtain or receive what you want, and re-invest time in attaining something you want.

According to Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., Author of Meet Your Happy Chemicals and Habits of a Happy Brain, dopamine activates when:

  • You set your sight on something you want
  • When you take a step toward a goal
  • You achieve a long-sought goal
  • When your efforts are rewarded
  • When you invest energy and expect it to be rewarded

All five triggers are involved in the process of setting and achieving goals. The practice of goal setting is the practice of developing a habit to produce happiness via dopamine consistently. Unfortunately, dopamine doesn’t just come around when you call, and it must be triggered. Setting your site on something by writing it down, and visualizing it, will spark that first bit of dopamine to arouse your mood.

Your brain loves dopamine and if you consistently put goal setting (and goal achieving) into practice and it could become addicting (i.e., a conditioned habit). Don’t believe me? Dopamine is the chemical triggered by the most addictive drugs on the planet including amphetamines and opiates. It’s what keeps you coming back for more.

Meet Serotonin, the why behind the why.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re a mammal. One of the main drivers of mammals is to seek a higher ‘status consistently’. In other words, we search for anything that makes us ‘feel important.

The ‘status’ feeling we constantly crave is triggered by the happy chemical called serotonin.

I would argue that a serotonin trigger is a target for Facebook/Instagram to keep us coming back via likes, loves, and always comparing ourselves to others.

The key to triggering serotonin positively (vs. using Instagram) is to develop a way of internally deciding your importance vs. allowing others to determine your significance for you. The opposite of feeling important is the feeling of ‘not being good enough.’ The fear tugs at the heartstrings of measuring your sense importance externally. By turning your sense of importance ‘inward’ through setting big goals aligned with your sense of fulfillment, you lessen that chance of that pesky fear showing up.

When setting a goal, it’s essential you align your goal with your sense of importance. You can do this by deciding what life looks like on your terms, vs. someone else’s, and then designing goals that work towards both a sense of achievement (dopamine) and a sense of fulfillment (serotonin).

I will show you how to put this into practice below.

What is Goal Setting?

Goal Setting Definition

The definition of goal setting, based on yourdictonary.com, is “the process of identifying something that you want to accomplish and establishing measurable goals and timeframes.”

I believe goal setting is the act of taking a dream or vision and making it real. It’s the first step in creating a sense of clarity and potential for growth. Setting personal goals is the foundation for growth and habit creation. Goals help your brain recognize if you are moving in the right direction and, if you are, will release chemicals to induce a positive state.

What is a goal?

According to Merriam Webster, a goal is, “the end toward which effort is directed.” Meaning some actionable or measurable ‘end’ in the future we’re moving towards.

SMART Goal Setting

If you’ve ever set a goal, chances are you’ve heard of the SMART goal acronym. This methodology has been around for over 50 years and lays the groundwork for setting actionable, clearly defined goals that have a time frame.

SMART acronym stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-stamped

We cover SMART goals more in detail in our SMART Goal Setting article.

How to Set a Goal in 3 Steps

To set goals effectively, I will take you through how to set a goal in 3 simple steps. Bare with me. It may seem like a lot, but the result will be worth it.

Step 1: Get clear on where you currently are by measuring your life

To set a measurable, achievable goal (the M and A in SMART), you have to know where you’re starting from.

To measure yourself:
Choose a category of life you’d like to improve (health, wealth, relationships).
Decide what ultimate success looks like in this area. In other words, what a ten would look like in this area on a scale from 1-10.
Decide where you currently rank in regards to achieving the goal on a scale from 1-10.

Now that you have a benchmark to improve on, let’s set a goal together.

Step 2: Set a goal using the SMART Goal system

Let’s use the category ‘health’ to set a SMART goal together. Instead of setting a goal like “lose weight” which is vague, not actionable and doesn’t have a target date, let’s walk through the SMART steps:

  1. Specific – Choose something specific you want to work on. For this example, we will use body fat.
  2. Measurable – Now that we know body fat is the specific item to focus on, let’s choose a number to measure: less than 10%.
  3. Achievable – This is where step 1 comes in handy. You must decide if 10% body fat is even possible for you to hit. Let’s assume it is.
  4. Relevant – Making your goal relevant is where you tie in why the goal is important to you (and your serotonin). Many coaches will say your WHY comes after the goal. However, if you go through the SMART checklist properly, you will find the goal IS the why. For this goal, let’s say the reason it’s important is that I want to have incredible energy and be a model for others when it comes to health.
  5. Time-stamped – Both short term or long term goals need a finish line. Choose a target date in the future to reach your goal. Let’s say June 30th.

Here is the new SMART goal example: Become a model for others when it comes to health with incredible energy measuring below 10% body fat by June 30th.

This sure as heck sounds better than ‘lose weight,’ don’t you think? There is real power in leveraging the SMART acronym when setting personal and career goals. Your brain loves to hone in on specific targets. Vagueness is a goal killer.

Step 3: Ensure the goal is aligned with what you want in a measurable way

  • Rank achievement: Where would this goal fall on a scale from 1 to 10 in regards to achievement? If it matches with your ultimate success description from step 1, then it’s obviously a 10. However, sometimes we might be starting from a 1, so focusing on getting to a 4 or 6 might be the best move.
  • Rank fulfillment: Ask yourself, how fulfilled would you be if you reach this goal? If it’s a 6 and above, chances are you’re on target for a goal that is important and motivating to you. Your serotonin will thank you later!

Goal setting worksheet

Want a step-by-step goal setting pdf to help you with the above? Download our Free Goal Setting Worksheet which guides you through each of the three steps above. We’ve simplified it into a one-page download to just focus on the logic of goal setting.

Check out our free goal setting course.

If you prefer a more interactive style of learning, we’ve paired our Goal Setting Worksheet with an interactive Goal Setting Basics Course which is also free. We’ve had thousands of people join the course this year alone!

Whether you are ready to crush a new years resolution or you want to take your life to a new level, the 3 Step goal setting framework will help you align your brain to develop addictive habits that benefit your life.


Goal Setting Basics

Crush your upcoming goals with this completely FREE 3-part goal setting course!