We typically see goal-setting as something we do at the start of a new year. We set goals as ‘resolutions’ and hope to achieve them as the year goes by, focusing on the outcome and often not on the journey. These goals are often quite big too (eg. I am going to lose 30 pounds or I am going to save X amount of money by the end of the year) and around March you have given up and might even feel low and defeated. Sounds familiar? Although there is nothing wrong with setting big goals, it is helpful to your mood to set some smaller, easily achievable goals as well. Here’s why:

When achieving a goal, our brain rewards us with the release of dopamine. Your brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. Dopamine is an essential hormone and neurotransmitter for happiness. In other words, activities aligned with a goal provide a sense of happiness. Psychology today states that setting small achievable goals (like cleaning the pantry or taking out the trash) that you could get done in a few minutes can still give you that feel-good feeling! Obviously the bigger the goal, the bigger the rush of dopamine and reward feeling you will get. Do not sabotage yourself by setting unrealistic or unachievable goals. You can work towards big goals by identifying smaller goals in the journey to your bigger goal. This strategy will give you a steady release of dopamine in your brain.

A recent study conducted by the University of Basel found that people are most satisfied if they have a feeling of control and attainability in reaching the goals

I want to invite you to try this tool out and measure it’s impact on your mood:

  1. Create a to-do list at the start of your day.
  2. It is helpful to write down what you’d like to get done or achieve during the day. (Eg. Make my bed/ Take the kids to school/ Check my emails/ Call my sister).
  3. Tick off each goal as you reach it and feel the surge of dopamine as you get these tasks done.
  4. If you do not get it all done, don’t sweat it! A big part of getting things done on your to-do list is to be present and do it with enjoyment as much as you can (although taking out the trash can only be so much fun – I must admit!).
  5. Being present while ticking off items on your to-do list, gives you the opportunity to experience life on a daily basis in its entirety. It ensures that you do not rush through your days, simply stuck in the anxiety it can create.

So, which small daily goals can you set for yourself to experience small bursts of happiness throughout your day? Happy goal-setting!

written by Megan Stapelberg, Counselling psychologist