As the clock ticked over to 12:01 on January first, many of us made a commitment to change the world…. well maybe not the world but something important non the less. The start of a new year is a natural time to reflect on what could have been and what good you want to achieve over the next 12 months. So making a New Year’s Resolution sounds like the right thing to at the time.
Research has shown that at least 50% of the population make at least one New Year resolution each year. Common resolutions like lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking, save more money, and pay off the credit cards are all too common.
As we start to settle into the beginnings of the year many of you may now be struggling with your commitment. In fact out of all those who make a New Year’s Resolution only 12% actually achieve their resolutions?
So this year I have decided to make a New Year’s Resolution. I’ve decided to lose weight and get healthy. But to achieve this I am going to have to tap into the world of neuroscience and psychology to reduce the chance that I will be another statistic.
So how can we use this science to help you and I achieve our goals?
What the science shows us is that a lifestyle change require a change in a behaviour or habit developed over many years. To change a habit is not an easy task. So if we can understand how habits are formed then we are well placed to understand change to them.
Our habits are formed through repetitive thinking and action. You would remember doing this at school when you learnt your times tables or sight words. You would say them and read them over and over again until you could recall them in your sleep. Because of this repetition, the brain recognises that this is important information and creates a neural superhighway allowing for the transmission of neural activity in a fast and economical manner. The formation of habits helps the brain conserve energy. This then means that when we go to recall our times table we can do it quickly and often without any conscious thought.
So if you are trying to change a habit you are effectively fighting your brain every step of the way. But wait one minute – If we could wire our brain to learn our times tables, surely we can rewire it to break a habit and make a lifestyle change? This is possible because of neuroplasticity or the ability of our brain to change.
What we need to do is ask the brain to follow a path that it either hasn’t used for a long time, or not at all. It’s like asking the Amazon River to change course during the wet season. But if you can set up the right conditions and the right mind state then little by little you will be able to chart a new course.
To achieve the changes you want to make in your life, the following tips will assist you overcoming the brains natural resistance to change and increase your chance of success.
Make Small Specific Changes
When we create goals that involve personal change, it’s safer for our brain to resist the change. In some cases we will be rewarded for avoiding the change. In fact when doctors give at-risk heart patients the advice, change or die, only one in seven are able to make the necessary life-style changes. As identified by Professor James O. Prochaska, if the change is too large and difficult, most people will never achieve the desired state. However if we present the brain with a small incremental change which requires limited effort, our resistance is minimised, allowing for a greater chance of success.
Using my goal of losing weight and getting healthy for example; this change is broad and complex with so many variables it sends flags off in many regions of my brain. Breaking them into small specific goals like: “On Monday I will go for a walk each day for the next week”, will make it easier and therefore increase the chance that I will stick to it and in turn my brain will reward me for achieving my goal.
Using Positive Language
If I was to ask you to NOT think about a Blue Tree there is a good chance that’s exactly what you thought about. Our mind is powerful and the power of thought is well researched. If you think you will fail at something you increase your chance of failure by up 50%. Conversely if you use positive language then you increase your chance of success.
We know that professional athletes and successful people have known about this for a long time. Using positive language and visualisation to set your state of mind can be the difference between gold and silver. Instead of self-limiting statements actively use positive language to support your goal. As Yoda says:
My previous goal “On Monday I will go for a walk each day for the next week”, whilst not negative, has some room for improvement, If we can tweak it so that it is more like a self-fulfilling prophecy I am more likely to have greater success. Something like: “I walk every day of the week” is a good start. If you were to include a visualisation exercise where you picture yourself doing this you will enhance the success rate further still.
Write Your Goals Down
In a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology, over 90% of those who explicitly wrote down their plan to exercise and used positive motivational language achieved their goals as compared to 30% of those who only thought about it. This is one of many studies and research articles that all indicate the value of writing it down. Some of the reasoning for this may be attributed to the linkage our physically writing has to our neural network. Further research has shown some that handwriting has linkage to improved creativity, boosting cognitive skills and improving memory.
I am planning to handwrite my goal “I walk every day of the week”. In fact I plan on writing it not once but as many as I can. This will help me embed my thoughts into my conscious and subconscious thought pattern. Another strategy to incorporate would be to say to myself “I walk every day of the week” whenever my thoughts or actions go against my goal.
These are just three steps that you can employ to achieve your New Year resolution. But don’t stop there. A New Year resolution is just a goal. If your goal is career related, financial or spiritual any or all of these strategies can assist you to achieve all that you aspire to achieve. For more information on setting goals check out the work of Zig Ziglar.
As for my New Year Resolution, I am seven days in and progressing along well. I won’t tell you it has been easy, but it’s been the most successful challenge to date.
Author: Scott Timmins – want to know how Scott can help you and your organisation email Scott today at [email protected]