Here’s a question you may not have asked yourself:
While you’re deciding on a goal or making a resolution, what mood are you in?
Resolutions and goals usually involve choices about which bad habits to break and which good ones you’ll try to establish. Did you know your mood can affect the decisions you make? When it comes to goal setting, this can affect your likelihood of success as a result.
Consider the difference in mood between:
- I’m sick of feeling/being [____________]. I’m going to [____________] instead. It’ll be tough, but no excuses!
- If I were to [____________] then I could feel/be/achieve/have [____________]! It will take work, but it’s worth it!
Either formulation can be motivating. But the first relies on determination while the second relies on inspiration. This means the first requires energy to maintain while the second can give you energy to keep going.
That’s not all. There’s a hidden gem in the second formulation. It revolves around what researchers have discovered is at the heart of every good & bad habit: we are craving something.
Habits form when a certain cue triggers an anticipation that we’ll get something we crave, most powerfully a physical or emotional reward.
Then we do the habit and get the reward, our craving is satisfied (however briefly) and now the next time we see/experience that cue we can anticipate that we’ll get that reward – and a routine becomes established. This establishes a Habit Loop, and it can be hard to see it coming.
“Most of the time, these cravings emerge so gradually that we’re not really aware they exist, so we’re often blind to their influence… to overpower the habit, we must recognize which craving is driving the behavior.” [Charles Duhigg]
To break a habit we need to find/create alternate routines that can fulfill that craving. And we need to either add new cues to trigger the new routine, or re-interpret existing cues to trigger new routines (e.g., walk a new route to work, or see the donut shop on our usual route and not go in).
Re-interpretation can be harder to do, so we need to remind ourselves that this work is worth it. And that’s where the inspiration comes in handy. If you’re doing something that’s already hard for you, relying on a difficult requirement (discipline!) adds to the load. But inspiration (aka purpose!) can help carry you through the difficult parts. (e.g., “I said no donut!” vs. “My body feels better and my morning is easier without a sugar crash!”)
Finally, when you’re in the act of deciding on which goal to pursue, it’s easier to think of an inspiration formulation that will work for you when you’re in a positive, creative, and constructive mood.
“We cannot feel good about an imaginary future while we are busy feeling bad about the present.” [Dan Gilbert]
So when you’re making goals, try to pay attention to the mood you’re in while you’re making them. Don’t be in a rush, frustrated, or hungry. Give yourself some time, take some deep breaths, and taste something that gives you pleasure. These little things can help shift you into a more positive mood, which can then lead to greater creativity, and that will help you be able to figure out what you’re craving and what can inspire you.
Richard J. Davidson & Sharon Begly,The Emotional Life of Your Brain
Dan Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business