Our Goals must be Tangible
I want to state that. We are very visually oriented animals. We seem to trust our eyes more than any of our other senses. When we hear a bump in the night we want to see that nothing is there before we can relax and go back to bed. When someone we are getting to know makes a promise or claims they have accomplished something, we want to ”see it to believe it”.
This is the reason we’re often told to write down our goals. ”If you don’t write down our goals,” so the saying goes, ”you won’t accomplish them.” we are able to physically see what we are setting out to accomplish them.” There is some truth to this. Like seeing that fruit-filled tree in the distance, If we are able to physically see what we are setting out to accomplish or clearly imagine it, then we are indeed, thanks to the powers of dopamine, more likely to
accomplish that goal.
This is the reason we like to be given a clear goal to achieve and receive a bonus instead of being given some amorphous instructions. It’s not very motivating or helpful to be told that we will receive a performance bonus if we achieve ”more”. How much more? Give us something we can measure our progress toward, and we are more likely to achieve it. This is why people who balance their checkbook or maintain a budget are more likely to save or not overspend. Saving is not a state of mind; it is a goal to be achieved.
It is also the reason why a corporate vision statement must be something we can see in our mind’s eye. That’s why it’ s called a “vision” because we need to be able to “see” it. Like the Amorphous instructions, having a vision of “being the most respected company in our category” is useless. Respected by whom? The customers? The shareholders? The employees? The CEO’s parents? If we are unable to adequately measure progress toward that vision, then how will we know if we’re making worthwhile progress? Visions of being the “biggest” or “the best” or any other words that so often show up in vision statements are, on a biological level, pretty useless if we want to inspire people to work hard to achieve those visions.
A good vision statements, in contrast, explains, in specific terms, what the world would look like if everything we did was widely successful. We can imagine that; we can see what that look like. And if we find that vision inspiring and worthy of our time and energy, then we can more easily plan steps we need to take to achieve that vision. Short or long term, the clearer we can see what we are setting out to achieve, the more likely we are to achieve it. It’s exciting, thanks to dopamine. This is why the best vision offer us something that, for all practical purposes, we will never actually reach, but for which we would gladly die trying. Each point in our journey is an opportunity to feel like we’re making progress toward something bigger than ourselves.
When the system works as designed, we stay well fed, get our work done and make progress. What’s more, we are better able to support and provide for those in our family and tribe. Dopamine can help us get through college, become a doctor or work tirelessly to realize an imagined vision of the future. But there is some fine print at the bottom of the bottle that is often missed. Dopamine is also highly, highly addictive. As helpful as it is, we can also form neural connections that do not help us survive-in fact, they may do the complete opposite.
The behaviors we reinforce can can actually do us harm.Cocaine, nicotine, alcohol, and gambling all release Dopamine. And the feeling can be intoxicating. The chemical effects notwithstanding, the addictions we have to these things (and lots of other things that feel good) are all basically dopamine addictions. The only variations is the behavior that is reinforced that give us the next hit of Dopamine.
There is another thing to add to that list of things that can hijack our dopamine reward system: social media. Texting, e-mail, the number of of likes we collect, the ding, the buzz or the flash of our phones that tell us ”You’ve got a mail,” feels amazing. As it should. We have associated the dopamine-releasing feeling of ”ooh, something for me” with getting a text or e-mail or the like. Yes, it’s true, we hate all that e-mail, but we live for the ding, the buzz or the flash that tell’s us something’s there. Some of us have formed neural connections that drive us to carry our phones in our hands at all times, often looking down and hitting refresh a few times, even though nothing has come in. Gimme dopamine!
It is said that if you wake up in the morning and the first thing you carve is a drink, you might be an alcoholic. If you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is check your phone to read e-mail or scan through your social media before even you get out of bed, you might be an addict. Carving a hit of chemicals feels good, we repeat the behavior that we know can produce that hit. In case of our love of our devices and social media, we are less aware of addictive qualities.