Do We Really Set New Year's Resolutions Anymore?
It seems like most people I know poo-poo the idea, but still end up defining some sort of positive habit or change they want to introduce for the upcoming year. For me, this holiday has always been my favorite: a time to reflect on and celebrate what’s passed and an opportunity to really think deeply about how I want to create the life I want in the year ahead.
Considering all we know about the brain and how it works, I took a much different approach to my goal setting this year. In fact, with everything I do now I consider what my brain needs and wants in order to operate at its best. Here are the brain-based tips I came up with – how to train your brain to change your life for the better:
- Prioritize downtime. Regardless of your goals, your brain needs time to reset and recharge regularly throughout the day. If you wake up and jolt into autopilot, you will quickly shift back into the old habits that have become comfortable over time. Each morning start with a few minutes of deep breathing and gratitude to put your brain into its optimal state for focus and flexibility.
- Start with why. The brain is inspired by emotion, which can be seen in the specific chemicals we release that strengthen neural connections. Although stress can seem motivating short-term, the hormones that fuel the rush are toxic to both the brain and body, and lead to burnout when used chronically. After your breathing and gratitude exercise in the morning, start to reflect on the purpose behind your goals. Try to make your visualization and clear and emotional as possible: imagine yourself feeling energized, picture yourself with the people you love most, feel how it will feel to be living your best life. And then, once your brain is in this elevated state, you can shift to focusing on the specific strategies required to get there. Determine who you want to be before you even consider what you need to do.
- Be clear. The brain craves simplicity. It’s important to keep in mind that every change, even positive, is perceived by the brain as a potential threat because it requires energy. If you have the resources you need to change (glucose, oxygen, adequate sleep, regular breaks, social support), then the brain will allocate just enough energy to try out the new behavior or thought pattern. But deplete yourself of energy or make your goals too lofty, and the brain will give you a million reasons why you should start tomorrow.
- Commit ahead. Practicing your new healthy habit should be built into your schedule and prioritized higher than any other obligation you have. If not, it will become slippery. Write it down with specific information as to what, when, where, why and how and for added sticking power build in some accountability by telling a friend or colleague what you’re working on. For greatest impact, invite them to join you.
- Know your plan B, and C. Even with the best intentions, life often gets in the way. What derails most people who have a clear commitment to their new goal is when they can’t be perfect and throw in the towel. I always make sure to have what I call my B and C plans – Below optimal and Challenging. Below optimal might be when I’m on the road, have company in town or feeling extra tired. Instead of running 5 miles, I may go for a shorter run or do 30 minutes of intervals on the treadmill. Perhaps more important is the plan you have for challenging days. For me, that might be 2 weeks straight on the road, a jam-packed schedule, or having done an event that left my legs extra sore. In which case I have to decide ahead of time – what is enough for me to feel like I made an effort that will keep me on track? I’ve found that moving at least 30-45 minutes allows me to check the box for "enough". Sometimes it’s just walking the hallways of ATL airport for as long as I can, or getting 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. Whatever it is for you, it’s important to have a back up plan so you can still make your best effort in the given circumstances, and not give up on yourself.