How many January 1st’s have you spent thinking about what is going to be different for you THIS year? What new things you will start doing or stop doing to improve your health and wellbeing… and then, a week maybe three go by and you find yourself immersed in all the old habits. Discouraging, isn’t it?
What if this year you took a different approach? Decide that you will no longer put yourself through the excitement and adrenalin rush of all the cool things you will do differently, only to be followed up with the self -loathing that comes with the realization that you are back to your old ways of thinking and doing and not getting anywhere you wanted to go.
There is a better way, once you learn more about how your beautiful brain works and how to work with it.
Let’s look at some brain basics.
You have a part of your brain called your Prefrontal Cortex (behind your forehead) that is in charge of, well, helping you be in charge of yourself. This part of the brain is the last to fully mature and develop (hence why teenage boys do some really dumb things) and it’s the part of the brain that is going to largely determine the quality of your life.
The PFC is responsible for higher level thinking, focusing, organizing and it is also the brains brakes. If we are contemplating doing something that we know won’t end well, or it won’t get us where we want to go, it is our PFC that says, “Whoa, you sure you want to do that?”
Another important part of your brain is your limbic brain or emotional brain. It is the part of your brain that remembers highly emotionally charged memories both good and bad, the part of your brain that allows you to feel things, and is essentially the center of your emotional universe. We often experience a feeling, sometimes before our PFC can help us sort out what that feeling may be about.
When you previously started that diet, and then 2 weeks later fell off of it, your limbic brain recalls how badly you felt about yourself after that. This part of your brain may balk when your Prefrontal Cortex starts thinking about starting “another diet.”
Your emotional brain may cause intense enough feelings that your PFC starts to think thoughts like “why bother, remember the last time you tried that?”
So then we are left with an internal” battle of the brains” so to say as our thoughts and feelings come into conflict with one another.
It is also important to realize that every thought you have is accompanied by a chemical reaction—when we think negative or hopeless thoughts, we are likely to produce some stress hormones in our body like adrenalin or cortisol. When we think positive, encouraging or accurate thoughts we are likely to get a surge of dopamine (involved in motivation) or serotonin which is often referred to as the “happy chemical”.
So now you have some brain basics- Knowing what you know now, let’s learn how to approach all this resolution business differently.
1. Stop Making Resolutions and Set Specific Goals.
2. Know your “Why”. Why does this goal even matter to me?
3. Ask- How will My Life Be Different, Better, Calmer, more Productive etc. once I meet this goal?
4. Write Down Your Very Specific Goal. Write Down Your “Why”.
5. Create 3 small Actionable Steps.
6. Create the Environment that will Help You to Achieve your Goal
7. Visit your Goal and your Why daily
8. Execute your Actionable Steps
9. Find or Create your Social Support / Accountability and Encouragement
10. Celebrate the Small Step Progress.
1. Stop Making Resolutions. The very word resolutions for some can trigger bad feelings you have ever had for all the resolutions (often they are the same year to year) that you made previously and did not keep. Start setting realistic and specific goals instead.
2. Know Your Why. Once you have clarity why this goal is so important to you, it will start to look and feel differently. Move past the “shoulds” into what is truly meaningful for you. Once you start to think about and visualize why this goal matters, it will likely serve as great motivation.
3. Ask How your Life will be Different? This is the time to not only ask, but also visualize your life once you have met this goal. Make time to sit in stillness, breathe deeply, and see yourself with your goal accomplished. Stay with that visual and continue to breathe. Repeat this daily.
4. Write down your Specific Goal. Writing your specific goal down, is the beginning of taking it from an idea, to something real. Once it is in writing, you can see it, revisit it, and use the goal to start your action plan.
5. Create your Action Plan- start with 3 small actionable steps. If your goal is to go down two clothing sizes, (specific) then you might consider creating an eating plan, using smaller plates, and /or not eating anything other than veggies or fruit as a small after dinner snack.
6. Create the Environment that Supports Meeting your Goal. You may have heard the old adage, if you are an alcoholic, stay out of the bar. The reality is environment matters. Our environmental influences can help or hinder our ability to meet our goals. Ensure that if you are trying to slim down, that you are not keeping a bunch of unhealthy junk food lying around. Additionally, surround yourself with safe, supportive people as you journey toward your goal.
7. Visit your Goal and your Why daily. Our brains like and thrive off of routines. That’s great news for you and your actionable steps towards your goal. Once you start to do the thing that is new, and you create the environment that supports that (including putting that step in your daily schedule) your brain will want to continue to repeat it. This is the beginning of starting new intentional habits that align with your goals.
8. Just Do It. Now that you have your steps written down, you have visualized the outcome you want, and you know your why, then ensure each actionable step is in your schedule and execute it. Be aware, intentional and present as you engage with each step that moves you toward your goal.
9. Assemble your Village. Shifting our thoughts, feelings and lives can be challenging, so ensure that you have a great and reliable tribe for support. You want to enlist the help of people who will “kick you with a velvet boot” as they love you through your challenges and goals. Be sure to find at least one person who has accomplished your same or similar goal so they can serve as both encourager and mentor.
10 Celebrate your Progress. Success in accomplishing our goals, is not linear. Life is messy. Sometimes our thoughts and feelings are messy. Life throws us curve balls. Someone we thought is supportive turns out not to be. Regardless of the ups and downs in your journey, learn to celebrate. You are celebrating the growing, learning, believing, doubting, changing, shifting person that is you- You are uniquely you on your own unique journey of becoming the best version of you! That is to be celebrated. Find healthy and fun ways to celebrate. Think of the small things that feel restorative, or bring you joy and pursue them regularly.
In the end, only you can create the life that is most meaningful and most in alignment with your values and who you are- and who you are becoming.
Enjoy the Journey.