Setting and Achieving

An introduction to the neuroscience of defining what you want and succeeding at it.

It’s been a while since I attended a conference where the brokerage culture was dominant, but I remember that one of the most important features was the motivational speaker who encouraged the audience to put more energy into sales, and sell products with more confidence.  These speakers were inevitably charismatic, high-energy, and one would leave their “performances” with a strong sense of purpose, a determination to devote more energy to climbing up the grid.

Recently, at the IMCA national conference in San Diego, I saw the modern new iteration of this presentation.  Today’s sales motivational presenter has neuroscience credentials, talks a lot about how to train the brain to achieve success, and still manages to bring an over-caffeinated energy to the delivery.  That, and the message is not just to succeed, but to “produce”—as in “multiplying your production.”

I’m still tingling a bit from the IMCA presentation by Dr. Robert Cooper, of Cooper Neuroscience Labs, and my instinct on the way out the door was to dramatically raise my sales numbers of annuities, until I shook my head and remembered that I don’t actually have a license to do that. 

But Cooper’s presentation included some material that I think all of us could benefit from, in regards to setting and achieving goals.  “According to industry research, seventy percent of the difference between those who achieve big goals and those who don’t is called a commitment to implement,” Cooper told the group.

According to Cooper, making that commitment is not a one-time activity.  “We tend to set goals and forget them, which is a bad plan,” he said, and offered a more effective process.  “The first thing in the morning,” he said, “you need to run your top goals through your mind and heart again, and commit to each one.  I’m in.  I’m doing this.  You have to bring whatever these goals are into focus more often every day.   You have to walk with them,” he added.  “This accounts for a huge difference in whether you achieve or don’t achieve your goals.  And everybody misses it.”

Cooper also said that the way most of us are setting goals is exactly wrong in many cases.  “Contrary to everything you’ve heard, big hairy audacious goals tend to fail,” he told the audience.  “And the reason is that every one of us has a line in our heads.  You want your goals to stretch you, but the moment they cross the line from aspiration into fantasy, you fail. The moment it feels like: I have to win the lottery to make that happen, then you won’t succeed,” Cooper added.  “At that point, setting the goal does nothing to advance your life, and it might actually undermine all progress.”

That means that when you set goals for yourself and your firm, you have to really work that stretch line, and become more accurate about what can be achieved than you ever have before.

Cooper added that the goals you set must have what he called ‘emotion.’  “Behavior change triggers on the eyes lighting up,” he told the group.  “It doesn’t trigger on cognition.  In fact,” he added, “thinking or cognition is incredibly weak for making changes.  Thinking matters.  But it’s really slow and really weak.  When your team talks about their goals, I expect some passion around it.  That will start to ignite the nervous system to change in service of those bigger goals.”

Later in the talk, Cooper added: “The reason productivity programs fail is you can have a productivity goal that will do absolutely nothing for your nervous system until you get your goals right, and when the goals are right, your brain will start to sort behind the goals, and find ways to be highly-effective.  It will do this automatically, in your subconscious, instinctively.”

Finally, Cooper talked about making the goals public—and said that, contrary to what you’ve heard, making that big declarative announcement about the goals you intend to achieve can actually be counterproductive. 

“We used to think that people should put pressure on themselves to achieve a goal, they should shout it from the rooftops,” he said.  “They should make public pronouncements.  But that’s a bad plan,” he continued.  “The research says that if I shout it from the rooftops, my brain feels like I actually did it, and I start to enjoy feelings of success from things that I never actually achieved.  So you are actually undermining what it takes, moment to moment, to achieve the goal.” 

His conclusion:  You want to keep your top goals more covert, between you and close family members and a close team.  Don’t announce them to the world.

But what about that morning commitment?  Cooper felt like it was so important that he went over it again. 

“Every day, in the first 21 minutes after you wake up, commit again to implementing your most compelling goals,” he said.  “This small gut check every morning swings the nervous system.  It actually makes your goals what we call in neuroscience a first attention priority.  It embeds them in your subconscious.  And the advantage of that,” Cooper added, “is: it takes no time out of the rest of your day.  You’re going through your day, with your subconscious sensing: say no to that.  It doesn’t advance your top goals.  Say yes to this.  You get these nudges, and you are not distracted.  What matters most DOES get your attention, and you didn’t have to stop and think about it any more.”