Changing over from one year to the next for many brings renewed hope for their lives personally, relationally, financially or professionally. There is something magical about the flipping of the calendar to a new year that supports the idea that you can leave behind anything that isn’t working and enjoy renewed hope that “this year can be different.”.
The leap from one year to the next inspires us to consider what, where and how we will focus our time, energy and resources into making those shifts that will allow us to meet our desires.
But for some, the desire and hope may be present, but the “how” remains elusive.
All we can do is what we know to do; so many of us are operating with the same set of “tools” we’ve been operating with for years. This is often what keeps us hoping that some things will be different, but that hope often fades with each passing day in the new year.
This occurs often because we all have a brain that kind of likes the status quo, even when we say we want something different.
If the above seemed confusing, you are not alone.
While our mind and heart may have a desire for something to radically change in our world- we want our relationship to be healthier or more satisfying, or we want our business to experience explosive growth- we all have a “pull” to keep things exactly the way they are.
Part of the culprit is our lazy brains. Think about all the things you currently do on “autopilot”: Wake up and brush your teeth. Shower. Eat breakfast (or not). Drive the same route to work. There are a lot of mundane tasks that we have trained our brain we can do with very little if any thought. Our brain likes that. It’s predictable. Routine. We know what to expect and autopilot requires little energy expenditure.
Change of any kind, takes work. And work takes effort and energy. And if we are not exactly sure what kind of work or exactly the thoughts and behaviors we ought to change to achieve our goals, well that takes even more work. In other words, learning to add tools to our existing toolbox takes some effort on our part.
And then there is this thing called motivation, which is intricately tied to desire (how bad do we want this) habits, (what patterns of thought and behavior have we practiced over time) and even hormones, especially dopamine.
Dopamine in particular is the hormone that is instrumental in motivation and reward. The higher your dopamine levels are the more likely you are to be more alert, focused, creative and stay on tasks longer that move you toward your desired goals.
In general, the more we make choices that produce a myriad of happy brain chemicals, the more likely we are to achieve what we desire, however, as you can see we all have a few things working against us.
If you are truly ready to understand yourself better, work with the beautiful brain you have, and if you truly want to nix the resolutions ( read previous blog “Nix the Resolutions and Create an Action Plan instead.) then here’s some ideas for you.
1. Engage in the activities that produce happy brain chemicals, especially dopamine. Set clear and concise goals and create small steps that can be easily accomplished that give your brain many rewards along the way. In this way, you are setting yourself up to work “with” your brain. Every small success is a squirt of dopamine!
2. Move Your Body.- Anytime you engage in fitness activity, as long as you are doing something you actually enjoy, you are boosting the good neurochemicals. The rewards are many including just feeling mentally, emotionally and physically stronger.
3. Hang around people who are also motivated to accomplish their own goals personally/ professionally. Due to social and emotional contagion, we are most likely to adopt the behavior and attitudes of about the 5 closest people we spend the most time around.
4. Break down your goals into simple actionable steps. This keeps us more motivated when we take these actions in small step fashion, rather than trying to bite off too big of a chunk which then results in being demotivated which lowers dopamine levels.
5. Visualize your goal and imagine what it will be like and feel like when you accomplish it. Once you can “see it” in your mind’s eye, and hold onto that vision, it will help train your brain what you specifically want to accomplish. Create a story board or vision board that exemplifies what you want will also give you something tangible to look at to help with this.
Change, and specifically shifting thoughts and behavior is not easy. Easy is status quo. Easy is doing what everyone else is doing, not getting the results you want, and then complaining about it or making excuses why you can’t seem to accomplish your goal.
Once you choose to work with the brain you have, remember that you’ll need to expend a bit more energy than it takes to be on autopilot. Create a concise and specific written goal including why your goal matters to you. In addition, when you make everyday choices to support your brain health, this all goes better.
You can then rid yourself of all the guilt, disappointment and self loathing you may have experienced in the past, and chart a new course armed with the knowledge you now have about how you actually work! When we work with that knowledge, we are more likely to make the choices that support what our brain needs to forge a brighter path ahead.
Will you likely need some new tools? Absolutely. We recommend that this is the year you seek out a competent and caring counselor, therapist, brain health coach, or life coach to assist you in your journey towards reaching and achieving what you really want.
You are worth the journey.