To Achieve More Than Ever Before, Reprogram Your Brain with a Specific Plan

Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash

“If you’ve ever attended a seminar and been inspired to make great change, only to find yourself right back where you started, you’ve experienced the enormous gap that exists between setting goals and actually reaching them,” says John Assaraf. “Whether you’re trying to do something as simple as exercise once a week or something as daunting as leaving your job to start a business, that gap is always there.”

So how can people overcome this gap between setting goals and achieving them? The key, John asserts, is in creating a specific plan.

“Plans can help bridge that gap between goals and achievement,” he says. “Without plans, your goals are really just dreams. The reason plans work so well is because of the way they impact the brain.”

Here are four distinct reasons why “Innercising” your mental-planning muscle can make all the difference:

1. HOW and WHY work differently in the brain: Goals with a high emotional value can create a dopamine release in the brain. If you set a goal with a powerful why, you experience that first dopamine hit. But while that why is critically important to creating your goals, it’s only a first step on the road to accomplishing them. The old saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” isn’t quite accurate. Where there’s a will, we also need to create a clear way. We need to make sure we activate not just the parts of the brain that help us create the goal, but also the parts of the brain that help get us there.

Spend all your time in “why” and you’re a dreamer who never takes action. Spend all your time in “how” and you might be busy, but with what? When you activate these various parts, an important switch takes place. You move from your conscious mind to your subconscious mind; you move from the realm of imagination to the realms of belief, action, and, eventually, productive habits.

2. Your brain thrives on the mini-success of plans: The initial boost of dopamine you get from setting a goal is helpful — and you can continue to support your efforts by focusing on your goal — but that’s not enough. Big change is almost always a long-term project, and for that you need the ongoing motivation that comes from regular dopamine infusions. Fortunately, that delivery method is prewired into your brain. Every time you succeed at something, your brain releases more dopamine. It’s a reward system designed to keep you doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.

The secret to those tiny bursts is a clear plan created from small steps. Each baby-step success provides a dopamine boost that motivates you to take another step, and on and on. With enough doable steps, you can create a virtuous cycle that ensures you have a steady supply of motivational fuel to reach your goal.

3. Goals are loose ends in the brain: One of the surprising paradoxes of change is that goals can actually distract you from… well, reaching your goals. Because your brain is so goal-oriented, it keeps focusing on your goals even when you’re not actively working toward them. When you want something and you don’t yet have it, your brain continues to allocate resources to “keeping the goal alive” until you can accomplish it. This would be fine if we only had one goal to think about. In reality, though, your daily life is filled with a multitude of goals of wildly varying sizes. Even the act of brushing your teeth is fulfilling a goal.

The result is that goals become a kind of loose end in the brain, and those loose ends can distract us from the work of actually tying them up. It’s a surprising contradiction, but one we have to resolve in the brain. The best solution for this is planning.

4. Your two brains are time-conflicted: Imagine that you’ve set a goal to lose weight. To accomplish this, you’ve decided to change your diet. Setting the goal has likely inspired you, yet, almost without realizing it, you find yourself adding less-healthy choices to your shopping cart or sitting in front of the TV with a bowl of something sugary. What happened? How can you be so motivated in one moment and so off-track the next?

The culprit in this case is how different areas of your brain view time. You see, parts of your brain have the ability to set goals for the future while other parts are more inclined toward immediate gratification. Once again, planning is the bridge. A good plan tells you what to do next. Without one, you can feel a void that you’re likely to fill by reaching for default unhealthy habits you’ve been stockpiling over the years.


John Assaraf is a serial entrepreneur, brain researcher, and CEO of NeuroGym. In the last 25 years, John has grown 5 multi-million dollar companies in real estate, internet software, brain research, and life and business coaching and consulting. He is the author of two New York Times best-selling books: “Having It All” and “The Answer.” His brand-new book is called “Innercise: The New Science to Unlock Your Brain’s Hidden Power” (Waterside Press, 2018). John has made frequent appearances on Larry King Live and has been featured in eight films, including the blockbuster smash hit “The Secret” and “Quest for Success” with Richard Branson and the Dalai Lama. He is one of the leading behavioral and mindset experts in the world, with a unique ability to help people release the mental and emotional obstacles that prevent them from achieving their very best in life and business. John is a vegan who creates and eats his own hot sauces, meditates daily, and exercises six days a week. He loves skiing, traveling, taking cooking classes, listening to the Bee Gees and Enigma, and being a dad, husband, and mentor.

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