It's very common to hear successful people talk about how they feel like they are almost manifesting their destiny because they have been focusing on envisioning their newfound success for many years, often starting in childhood. 

There are a multitude of explanations on what separates successful people from unscucessful people, and one thing we know for sure is that people who know what they want, have faith they can get it, and put the hard work in that is necessary often find themselves experiencing the fruits of success. 

There are many factors that contribute to our dreams becoming a reality, including explicit self-awareness, proper motivation, and understanding how to set goals effectively, but on the physiological front, the Reticular Activating System (RAS)—a cluster of neurons located above the spinal cord and a gatekeeper to the senses—is a key player in the game. 

In today's modern age, it is easy to get oversaturated with information as we are all constantly sifting through billions of bits of data at any given time and organizing this data without short-circuiting. The key is to making this data work in our favor, which is where the RAS becomes relevant. 

brain illustration of reticular activating system

The RAS plays a crucial role in goal-setting by helping us focus more effectively on what we seek to accomplish by via selective filtering. Except for the olfactory system, it serves as a barrier between our environment and our senses, bridging the gap between our unconscious and conscious mind, working behind the scenes to sort and organize environmental data in response to our surroundings.

We've all had experiences of thinking about something specific, like buying a new car, and then all of a sudden, we start seeing that specific car everywhere. While it may seem magical and surreal at the time, this phenomenon is a result of selective attention.

The flip side of this would be confirmation bias, a shortcut that our minds take to support our pre-existing beliefs. Often bombarded with information, humans are very susceptible to this bias because it's an efficient way to process information so we are reassured that each time we see that car, it is further proof of our impression that the car is everywhere.

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

When it comes to our self-esteem, our beliefs about who we are, which we've received from our childhood and other critical moments in life, are often projected into the real world as self-fulfilling prophecies. Our predetermined beliefs about ourselves run deep and have a profound influence on whether things that align with our expected results, regardless of whether they are positive or negative.

For example, a person with low self-esteem will typically not pursue things they think are too big for them. As a result, these people are most likely to settle with less desirable choices or circumstances.

In contrast, people who are driven, confident, and goal-oriented will persistently pursue new opportunities even though they might seem impossible at the moment. These individuals have trained their RAS to filter out the noise and will be able to better focus on opportunities as they present themselves. Roman philosopher Seneca once said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity," and when our filtering system is working correctly, our propensity to recognize opportunity is heightened.

The RAS conditions us to repeat our beliefs, thoughts, emotional patterns, and subconscious coping mechanisms, and, often, we do not realize this, but we behave according to the thoughts and ideas that we feed our RAS. It's a bit similar to training a data set in machine learning. 

As such, its vital to become conscious of our thoughts and beliefs to better understanding the influence they have on on our RAS because these thoughts and beliefs affect our actions and, therefore, all areas of our lives—relationships, career, health, wealth, and spirituality. Thus, while the RAS is the key to increasing our motivation, without conscious awareness of how this part of the brain works, it can function against our aspirations.

It’s wonderful to climb the liquid mountains of the sky. Behind me and before me is God and I have no fears.

Helen Keller

Getting Motivated

The old saying goes, "If there is a will, there is a way." We can define "will" as motivation and the capacity to see the goal through. On the other hand, we can define "way" as our cognition, skills, and the ability to plan and execute. Both are equally important to accomplish goals.

Will is a result of the brain's dopamine reinforcement learning system, which is directly related to motivation. The higher the value you place on the goal, the more likely it is that you will achieve it. For example, if you want to finish school, the value you place on education, self-development, and discipline have a direct impact on whether you complete the degree on your own time.

In neuroscience, "the way" is a product of executive function, higher-level cognitive skills, and capacities that promote functioning optimally. As a result, it exerts effort, operates consciously, and is engaged when trying new things. It is driven primarily by the prefrontal cortex.

What is 2+2? .... That is not executive functioning.

What is 29 X 3? ... That is executive functioning.

🎯 Effective Goal Setting 🎯

There is a consensus in the scientific community that accountability, commitment, and writing down one's goals are the deciding factors for accomplishing a goal.

In 2015, Dr. Gail Matthews, a Psychology professor, set out to establish the power of goal-setting. She recruited 267 people from all walks of life to study goal achievement, dividing everybody into five sub-groups.

The commonality among the different groups was to think about their monthly goals and rate each goal according to 5 factors.

1. Difficulty
2. Importance
3. Skills and resources to accomplish the goal
4. Commitment and motivation
5. Whether they had pursued the goal before

The study's key takeaway was that when people write their goals and action commitments daily and share them with others, the probability of achieving the goal increases significantly. 76% of the people that did this either achieved their goals or were at least halfway there.

Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success

Pablo Picasso


George T. Doran coined the term "SMART goal" in the November 1981 issue of Management Review and it has since been widely used to guide people in writing and setting goals. SMART Goals, in essence, provide a clear sense of focus, clarity, and direction.

"SMART" is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

SMART Goals illustration

Setting goals gives us a sense of direction, drive, and purpose. As a result, by setting well-defined goals, you can keep an eye on your target and better focus on how to achieve your goal within the time frame specified. You can also improve your chances of reaching your objectives in this manner.

To put this into practice, keep a journal in which you write down your goals and feelings about them. Then, review your goals on a daily basis, and you should begin noticing when relevant information in the environment is present related to accompilishing your goals.


Plain, direct, and unambiguous, e.g., "I want to save and invest a significant amount of my savings to attain financial freedom."


Quantitative criteria that allow you to track your progress, e.g., "I want to save 20,000 dollars and invest 20% of that in the stock market."


Attainable, reasonable, and realistic; it should challenge you, but at the same time, it's not impossible to achieve given the resources that are available to you, e.g., "To achieve my goal of financial freedom, I will manage my spending and take the time to learn about stock market investing."


Answers your "why" and whether it aligns with your values and long-term objectives, e.g., "I want to save 20,000 dollars and invest 20% in stocks because it will allow me to diversify my investment portfolio and attain financial independence."


The goal should be time-sensitive to create a sense of urgency, e.g., "I should have saved 20,000 dollars and invested 20% of the amount in the stock market by the age of 25."

🧐 See it to believe it 🧐

Visualization improves the likelihood of achieving a goal. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, visualization is “the act of visualizing something or someone” or “forming a picture of it in your mind”. It’s almost like looking through a particular lens, your unconsciousness, your imagination, your deepest desires, and seeing your life unfold within your inner eye.

There are a multitude of visualization techniques, but consensus is that PETTLEP is considered most effective and is currently most prominent. The acronym indicates that physical, environment, task, timing, learning, emotional, and perspective relevant aspects of the imagery all need to be aligned with the aspects of the actual activity. 

A highly effective exercise is to imagine yourself with a bow and arrow aiming at the goal, which symbolizes the outcome of the goal being achieved. Clearly visualize the goal, imagine it happening, and release the arrow. At this point, believe that you are moving toward that goal, and you should start noticing opportunities that move you closer to the goal, as well as being more clear on distractions that move you further away from the goal.

Reprogramming subconscious beliefs

1. Challenge negative thoughts and beliefs

When we notice that we feel undeserving of a goal, we must question our feeling. Are we really in the position to say when something is not for us?

2. Use affirmations

After catching a negative belief, we can use affirmations to counter it. Make sure that you have supporting statements so the brain accepts the declaration. For instance, if we use the affirmation "I am good enough," five specific reasons we are good enough should follow it. This way, we strengthen the reprogramming with actions, repetitions, and emotions.

3. Identify the unmet needs

When we don't get our needs met, such as love, significance, growth, or certainty, we feel dissatisfaction. Unmet needs for long periods can lead to depression.

4. Validate emotions

We have to be aware that our feelings always tell us something about our internal reality—not always the external reality.

5. Avoid negative self-talk

How we speak to ourselves will be programmed in the brain. We have to make sure that we are compassionate to ourselves and avoid being overly critical when making mistakes.

Challenging ourselves to do new things and overcome obstacles is hardwired into our biology. The brain craves novelty and rewards us with dopamine bursts. Take full advantage of this by setting lofty short-term and long-term goals. Believe that you are deserving of great things and that you are capable of accomplishing great things.

As we reach our milestones, we gain more confidence to propel us forward. Neural circuits change and synapses strengthen when we learn something new or overcome a challenge. Grey matter grows, dopamine is released, and self-esteem rises.

To effectively set and achieve goals, we should first focus on changing the negative beliefs that have been programmed into our RAS. Our thoughts create our reality, and by practicing mindfulness and intentionality, we can set more goals and achieve better results.


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