By now you are probably sick of talking about goals and resolutions for the New Year.
Sick of talking about them, hearing about them, and most of all, making them.
The average chance of someone keeping
New Year’s Resolutions the whole year is 8%.
Pretty dismal. You probably discovered that a long time ago, when your decision to be kinder to your brother blasted out the window ten minutes after breakfast on New Year’s Day. No matter how hard you bit your tongue, who could expect you to put up with his totally annoying and ridiculously loud burps?
And that’s how it goes with most any resolutions.
I’m going to lose 5 pounds a month. Three days back on the job, and you feel absolutely righteous biting into a soft, gooey donut after being bitten, chewed and spit out by your boss. For something that wasn’t your fault.
I’ll walk 3 miles every day. Doomed from the minute the words hit your day planner. Everyone knows life happens. A parent is admitted to the hospital. The baby gets a fever and you can’t leave her side until it comes down. Your first grader coughed all night, and even though she could sleep in between bouts of medicine and steaming and rubbing with healing oils, you didn’t. Walk? I don’t think so. Tomorrow will be a better day.
I’ll do one good deed for someone every day. And by good deed, you mean something that will really make a difference. Something like baking cookies for the kids you babysit. Taking a casserole to the mom with a sick baby. Mailing a cheer package to Grandma in the nursing home. Oops. I can’t think of anymore. Three days, three good deeds, then a week, and maybe one more.
And so it goes.
About that goal of losing 5 pounds a month…
Scientists used to think that having one major resolution was more effective than a couple of smaller, interrelated goals. But recent studies by Dr. John Norcross at the University of Pennsylvania at Scranton show that having two goals – naturally linked to one another and more specific – may lead to better success. If you want to lose weight, for example, resolve that you will cut sugar and carb consumption, and that you will keep a journal listing everything you eat and drink. That will statistically increase your chances of following through with both actions and shedding a few pounds. Source
So the goal of walking 3 miles a day and losing 5 pounds could be your interrelated goals. But being so specific with the numbers is way too much pressure. Keeping the journal about what you eat and drink and how far you walk each day, with no set limits, will make any achievement a cause for celebration. Whereas, if you set a number, and fail to meet it, well… you end up feeling that you may just as well give it all up. Set one small goal, then when you meet it, plan the next slightly bigger goal. Take the goals one baby step at a time.
Another reason for the journal is that you can spend 5 minutes listing, and forget about it the rest of the day. Relax. Don’t be on yourself every single OCD minute about, “oh, I can’t eat this” or, “I’ve got to get out and walk!” Do it, list it, and forget it. Or, don’t do it, list it, and resolve to try tomorrow.
When you do miss a day, or a week, or even a month, do not scold yourself. Use positive post-its on your fridge, computer, bathroom mirror instead. Just little happy thoughts floating in and out of your vision all day long. To counteract those miserable monsters that creep into your brain and berate your attempts to better yourself. No. Don’t go there.
Celebrate every little achievement.
Plan ahead what you will do to reward yourself for goals met. About 30 years ago I needed to lose some weight (I thought. If that person knew what my today person knows, I would have been elated to be the size I was then.) Anyway, I planned to reward myself by making a wonderful, huge, two tiered glass hanging macrame table. Now you know what era this was. Please don’t try to figure out my age…
I met my goal, and I made the macrame marvel. I hung it proudly in my bedroom for years. Until macrame went so completely out of style, and then I still couldn’t throw it away. I stored it for at least another ten years. So proud of my tangible reward of a goal met.
(Then I finally, reluctantly, got rid of the ancient thing, only to find out that five years later, macrame is coming back into style.)
The take away from this little history lesson is that goals met and rewarded can result in lasting character benefits. The “feel good” that takes you on to the next goal, because you conquered one, and it gives the confidence to try the next one.
It takes a lot of willpower to follow through on a change in your lifestyle, something your brain isn’t pre-programmed to accomplish. This is a study conducted by Professor Baba Shiv of Stanford:
A group of undergraduate students were divided into 2 groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember. The other was given a seven-digit number to remember. Then, after a short walk through the hall, they were offered the choice between two snacks: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit. What’s most surprising: The students with 7-digit numbers to remember were twice as likely to pick the slice of chocolate compared to the students with the 2-digits.
The reasoning of why this happens? According to Prof. Shiv, it’s very obvious:
“Those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert.”
So your pre-frontal cortex that handles willpower is like a muscle, that needs to be trained, as Tony Schwartz always mentions. If you decide to train that muscle at the start of the new year with a resolution to quit smoking, start going to the gym, or lose lots of weight, that’s the equivalent of a 300 pound barbell you want to lift without any previous training.
It’s no surprise that your brain can’t do the heavy lifting. Source.
To make it easier to lift, plan ahead. Train your brain by filling that pre-frontal cortex slowly, one day at a time, with baby steps toward the big goal you want to accomplish. Don’t overload that couch-potato brain muscle with a big goal, overnight. But don’t get distracted with shiny objects, either. That ad promising that a tasty drink will make you slim in a month? Nah. Shiny object taking you down a rabbit hole.
Walk on the planned path,
take baby steps,
and celebrate every accomplishment.