Lose weight, workout, and diet are the top new year resolutions set every year. Here is a graph taken from Google Trends showing how frequently people have searched for these terms since 2010. As you can see, on the month of January of every new year, there is a spike which means more people are showing interest in the topic. It is also not surprising that during the months of November (Thanksgiving) and December (Christmas and other important holidays) people are thinking less about eating healthy and staying in shape.
What are new year resolutions and how they interact with our brains?
The human brain is as complex as it is funny and filled with riddles. I’ll explain. Change can happen in a moment. Snap, just like that and you are ready to start a whole new adventure. For some, it takes a little or a lot more than that. What is certain, is that all change starts with new or sudden insight, or as a result of reflection. Insight is when you clash onto a new paradigm, a new finding, a new dilemma, a realization of something so significant that you can no longer ignore and because of it, you are forced to change your old ways. This usually happens in a passive manner (you were not necessarily looking for it). Reflection is active. It is the act of looking inwards and gaining a superior level of awareness of something about ourselves, a situation, a relationship, a feeling, etc. In the end, both insight and reflection lead to a deeper level of awareness.
What does all this have to do with the brain being funny and filled with riddles? As we just explained, change can happen in a split second. All it takes is a bit of insight or reflection. The question is, why do most people wait until new years to develop their “resolutions” and not just make them the moment they became aware of them? AH! the riddles of the brain. You see, we like to assign meaning to everything we do, and a new year signifies new opportunities, new possibilities, a time to forget the past, a new beginning where the past is long gone and forgotten. A clean slate! It is this association between "new year" and "clean slate" that persuades our brains into delaying change. After all, it is much easier to start from zero, than 50 yards behind the “Go” line.
If you are serious about driving intentional change in your life, here are 6 steps you can follow to help you fuel long lasting resolutions.
Step 1 - Life Assessment
First, we need to decide where to focus on. For this, we have a simple method. Pick 1 of the following options (A or B). They are both great starting points for you to define what needs to change.
A) Assess one area of your present life: Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. Then, rate it numerically to have a benchmark. We suggest using 0,1,3,9 which mean:
0 – none/not taking place, 1 – low/undesirable, 3 – medium/good, 9 – high/ ideal.
B) What is an area of your life you want to improve? Something that really matters to you. Document how it currently is with metrics (0,1,3,9) or adjectives (terrible, excellent, acceptable, etc.)
This is our baseline. We now understand where to focus our attention and how we feel about it.
Step 2 - Dreamlining
Dreamlining is short for limitless dreaming with a timeline. Start by daydreaming about how the areas identified in step 1 could be if they had a rating or 9 or the best adjective possible. How would you feel if you were already there? Now it is time to turn them into a passionate goal. A goal must excite you and pull you forward. Here are some other ways to help you with this step:
- Ask yourself - What would you do if you had all the skills in the world?
- Write down what would excite you about it and be as specific as possible
Lastly, we will need to set a realistic timeline to make it happen. My recommendation to you is to set 1 end goal (lose 50 pounds in the next 2 years) but go deeper than that. Set fun and memorable milestones in between. These will help you stay motivated along your journey, and will prevent you from falling off the wagon. For example: if the goal is to lose 50 pounds in 2 years, then maybe in 6 months you want to be able to fit into a pair of jeans you still have from when you were in better shape. Or it is to feel comfortable taking a picture in a bathing suit (either for yourself or to share with friends). Another idea is to ace a physical exam you have already scheduled. The choices are limitless so get creative.
Step 3 - Your Reason
In this step, you will determine your “Why”. This means, why do you need to achieve this goal. This will not only give you the willpower to get started, but will also help you overcome fear and anxiety that will certainly invade your mind from time to time. We have already dedicated an entire article on this topic "How to start a workout routine and setting real goals" click on this link to go there now, but please return for step 4.
Step 4 - Rituals and Habits
Habits, the little things you do each day that define what gets done and what is placed on the back burner. Habits are predetermined decisions that are created consciously or subconsciously when a pattern starts to repeat itself, embedding itself into our brains and reducing the amount of mental energy spent on the action. Good habits have the power to help you achieve small wins every day and can create a positive domino effect in your life. For example, people who decide to start working out and stick with it long enough, usually also start to eat healthier, get better sleep, and improve their overall self-esteem. Bad habits can do the exact opposite to our lives.
Think about the little things you do on a daily basis that you need to do to set yourself up for success. For example: setting a motivational alarm to “Get Fit” on your cellphone, finding a picture of your end goal and placing it as a wallpaper on your cellphone, creating a clear workout routine, etc.
In this step, it is critical that you also think about the potential pitfalls and plan for them. For example, will erasing “snacks” from your grocery list will prevent you from buying them. If you don’t buy them, guess what? In a moment of temporary weakness, you won’t eat them! Another idea is to replace them with “healthy snacks”. Hacked! A bad habit is out the window and replaced with a positive one. Maybe you hate commuting to a local gym and are likely to switch your mind about working-out on your way there. In that case, you can workout at home. And if you decide to take this major step, you need the best hybrid exercise and yoga mat to go with it.
Step 5 - Schedule
Use your calendar to schedule progressive goals that will add up and allow you to reach your goal. Remember the milestones you defined in step 2? It is time to put them in front of you such that you don’t forget them. If you are continuously reminded of the journey ahead and how great you will feel once you achieve each milestone, you will be more likely to stick to your new self and newly established habits.
Step 6 - Reflect
Lastly, we recommend having a self-assessment sessions to reflect on your progress towards your milestones and goals. This can take place on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. However, you need to know that a new habit is most vulnerable in the first few weeks. For this reason, we recommend weekly or even daily self-reflection sessions until they become subconscious decisions. Each session can be as short as 5 minutes to whatever you deem necessary. Here are some additional tips:
Ask yourself the bigger questions:
- What went well?
- What didn't?
- How can I improve on it?
- And more importantly, did I set the correct goal and milestones? Do I need to revise them?
The steps layout above are centered around reflection. Self-reflection to be precise. However, as we have already mentioned, change can happen in an instant. If you are in a classroom, a debate, a friendly conversation, reading a book, watching a documentary, etc. and you stumble onto a truth from which you can no longer escape, take this moment of insight to develop a new resolution or goal. Don’t wait until January of the coming year to tackle it and change. Do it now. After all, the sooner you solve the riddles of the brain and conquer them, the sooner you will be in the driving seat of every decision, thought, and action you take.