It is that time of year. Time to make New Year’s resolutions to jumpstart 2017. It is no secret that sticking to these resolutions is tricky. In fact, research indicates that 88% of those who make New Year’s resolutions are not able to keep them. As relief that we are not alone in our failures sets in, discouragement is not far behind. What if there was a more effective way? A refreshed understanding of the brain can unlock evidence to help successfully execute goals.
The brain is a complex organ. Weighing only 3 lbs, it expends 25% of the body’s oxygen and nutrients. Every task the body completes is a result of communication between neurons in the brain. Different sections are in charge of ensuring the achievement of bodily functions. The portion of the brain essential in setting goals is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC is the source of willpower and focus, vital traits in completing resolutions. Scientists now note that the PFC is not designed to execute large, intangible tasks that are not broken down into realistic steps. The top three resolutions set by Americans illustrate our grand intent: lose weight, get organized and spend less/save more. These goals, if not deconstructed, are too large for the brain to manage. How, then, can we integrate the brain’s inherent abilities and our desire for change?
First, prioritize which goal is most important. Commit to seeing this goal to completion, allowing your brain to focus its energy. Then, dissect the goal into small phases. Ask yourself, “What needs to happen for me to reach this goal?” In order to develop a lifestyle that supports maintenance, become proficient in the basics and build on this foundation. Take, for example, the goal to become organized. Perform an achievable task daily. Spend 10 minutes picking up as much as possible or commit to clearing the sink before bed. In this way, you sustain habits that constitute a lifestyle of order. When you get off track, come back to these basics in order to return to the habit.
After the goal is tailored, have support in place to make success more likely. With more accountability, the ability to change is greater. Tell others about your goal. Write it down. Talk to others who thrive in this area to discover how they met their goal. Last, highlight your progress with appropriate rewards. Say you are on your way toward your weight-loss goal, what is something you can do now that you could not do before? Maybe you stuck to your budget and are out of debt. Celebrate as you pay off loans and acknowledge your victories.
Starting 2017 with a New Year’s resolution is a refreshing way to look forward to what this year can hold. Your brain is wired for gradual and committed change. As you begin the year, revamp your resolutions and feel your mind and body flourish. Happy New Year!
by Katherine Lewis, LCMFT