How Changing Your Perception Can Help You Achieve Your Goals Faster

UPDATED: May 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: April 28, 2020

I spent a summer in college training in different warfare specialties as part of my Navy ROTC scholarship. One week during the training, my fellow cadets and I were invited to go out on one of the Navy’s crown jewels: an Aegis destroyer. 

These extraordinary ships were the first of their kind. The technology of them is beyond the scope of my full understanding, but at the basic level, they work like this: When a missile fired from the ship neared its target, it was able to detect the scattered energy coming from that target and adjust both its trajectory and momentum based on this data.

This was called painting the target, and these ships could do it with incredible precision. 

Why am I telling you this? Because painting the target is exactly what your brain must do anytime it wants to accomplish a goal. 

Related: 4 Tips for Setting Powerful Goals

Your brain is goal-oriented. When you set a goal, your mind subconsciously makes a number of assessments about how far away that goal is (proximity), how likely you are to achieve it (the size of the target), and the effort (thrust) it will take to get there. As you work toward the goal, your brain is constantly calculating and recalculating these three variables.

Creating more positive perceptions of our goals can dramatically increase our engagement, focus, productivity and motivation, and thus increase the speed by which we attain them. Here’s how you can start painting the target in your own life: 

Strategy 1: Zoom in on the target (proximity). 

Research has shown the closer people get to a target, the harder and faster they work. Write down all of the work you’ve done and all of the strides you’ve made so far. Reminding yourself of past successes will help your brain perceive that you are closer to the ultimate target. 

Strategy 2: Magnify the target (likelihood of success). 

The bigger a target appears, the more your brain believes you will hit it. Look at your current circumstances. Are there areas where you believe you could never hit a home run because the fences seem a mile away? Simply move the fences in so it seems easier.

Strategy 3: Recalculate thrust (energy required). 

To achieve any goal, a certain level of energy is required. The lower the mental cost, the faster your speed toward success. Research has shown that by changing your perception of these costs, you can increase your speed toward your target by as much as 35 percent. 

Read next: 12 Efficiency Secrets of the World’s Busiest People

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by @chantalao007/

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.