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The Neuroscience of Achieving Goals: Lessons from Goldilocks and Her Invisible Coaches

Once upon a time there was an ambitious woman named Goldilocks who normally worked very hard to achieve her goals. Like most of us, she had three metaphorical coaches in her mind – the Harsh Coach, the Gentle Coach, and the Just-Right Coach. 

One deadline-pressured day, the Harsh Coach criticized, “You’re not working hard enough. You’ll never achieve your goals at this pace.” This spike in cortisol and norepinephrine caused anxious stress. While initially energizing, prolonged activation of the threat response system can lead to nervous system imbalance: periods of frenetic catch-up efforts punctuated by procrastination and inaction. 

Stuck and unsure what to do next, Goldilocks turned to her Gentle Coach, who placated: “You seem behind schedule. I’m sure there’s a reason; these things happen.” While less stressful, these platitudes didn’t provide enough motivational activation. In fact, Goldilocks’ dopamine levels dropped as she started feeling entitled to slack off – promoting even more procrastination!

Finally, Goldilocks tuned into her Just-Right Coach, who encouraged: “You’ve got this! There's a part of you that already knows how to do this.” This struck the right balance of challenge and support, without entitlement. Her brain released balanced dopamine and norepinephrine – helping sustain focus and intrinsic motivation needed for consistent goal progress.

Goldilocks soon realized she needed guidance optimizing coach activation. She began working with a Certified Coach who taught her to recognize associated bodily sensations, emotions and thought patterns. She learned mindful breathing to downregulate unnecessary stress reactions and foster growth mindset to summon the most helpful coach.

With practice Goldilocks understood when each coach helped most: her Harsh Coach for intense deadline pushes, Gentle Coach for impartial planning and her Just-Right Coach for sustaining consistent motivation during long-term efforts. By learning to intentionally activate the appropriate neurological coach, Goldilocks gained agency over her inner experience – and the ability to thrive.

The end.

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