Written by: Dr. Charryse Johnson, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Ever wonder why despite your best intentions, sticking to your resolutions seems difficult? According to research, only about 8 percent of people are able to follow their resolutions. 95% of New Year’s Resolutions are fitness related, but after 3 months only 10% of people believe their resolve will last. Resolutions can quickly seem unattainable, especially when focused on what you’d like to do, rather than who you want to become. To maintain resolve, your goals must be reasonable, and you must change your habits.
People often assume having enough willpower is the key to meeting resolutions. However, the will to change is a very small factor in your ability to follow through. When you set resolutions, you are essentially making plans for your future self. You are envisioning what you want to experience. Yet, a vision without action is nothing more than a fantasy. Most include three elements: a stimulus, a behavior, and a reward. A stimulus activates your subconscious mind to engage in an action it finds beneficial. However, your subconscious brain is going to seek rewards and tempt you to engage in habits that offer immediate gratification but deprive you of long-term benefits. Daily routines are the secret sauce that can turn your burst of resolve into a tangible source of motivation. Routines help rewire your brain’s neural pathways, allowing you to form new habits that align with the goals you’ve envisioned. A neural pathway is a series of connected neurons that send signals between parts of the brain. These connected neurons process the information we receive and reinforce our choices and behaviors. Like a physical path on the ground, if you keep going over the same route, it becomes a habit. In a similar fashion, your neural pathways work to reinforce your routines, but the brain is flexible and can be changed and adapted. This flexibility is called neuroplasticity and enables you to replace the habits that seem eternally ingrained into your behaviors. Choosing routines over resolutions initiates multiple levels of change, reduces your attachment to old patterns, and will teach you how to harness your potential. Consider these 6 growth principles as you transition into the next chapter of your life.
1. Abandon the habit of surrounding yourself with mediocre people.
One definition of mediocre means is neither good nor bad. Thus, mediocre people will often display a level of complacency that values comfort over change. If you’re reading this article, I’m assuming you aren’t in this category. (smile) Highlighting the reality of mediocre people isn’t about pointing fingers. It is my way of getting you to step back and reflect on where you may be holding yourself back to avoid feeling that you’re leaving someone else behind. The people you surround yourself with on a regular basis have a significant influence on your choices and can interfere with achieving your goals. Even in subtle ways, mediocrity can stunt your growth. We often view ourselves as relative to our relationships with others. Avoid people who drain your energy and deplete your optimism. Negative or intrusive judgements can cause you to second guess your dreams and negatively impact the health of your social brain. The social brain is an intricate network of the human brain that interprets and often takes on or mirrors the emotions and responses of those in your environment. If you are surrounded by people who are self-critical and allow their past failures to dictate their future, you may find yourself adopting their mentality. To help stay positive around negative or complacent people, limit the amount of contact and communication, don’t apologize for having different or more positive views, and be mindful that no matter what you do it may not make them happy.
2. Recognize that personal transformation comes at the expense of your old self.
One of the primary ways we drain our resolve and abandon routines is giving in to the tug-of war-between who we are and who we want to become. Have you ever found that you desire to change but fold at the first sign of discomfort? Each day you wake up and resolve to be different but soon find yourself mindlessly doing what you’ve always done. This is a breaking point that won’t resolve on its own, but you can teach your brain to get used to change. If you’re not incorporating consistent routines into your life, the personal transformation you desire may only appear at face value. Personal transformation is an expense, it is an investment where the benefits will outweigh the cost if abandon avoidance and work through the initial resistance. Our brain is conditioned to favor familiarity, but it can also fit into a new and more adaptive framework. The strength of your framework will rest on the consistency of your daily habits and routines. Through repetition and learning you can reinforce a positive trajectory towards personal transformation. There will absolutely be moments when your old self puts up a good fight. Don’t expect it to be a perfect path. When you are irritable, feeling stretched, and tired of “doing the right thing”, that is the intersection of growth and change. Your struggles are not a sign to retreat, they are a chance to ask yourself, “How can I find a win in this situation” or “Am I demonstrating allegiance to my old self or my new self”?
3. Shift your focus from reward to effort.
Goals are often initiated with a desire to reap the reward of success. While this is a perfectly normal motivation, it is important to have a balanced view of success that equally emphasizes your effort. The fear of failure can be paralyzing, and this condition makes you more likely to put off or avoid any activity or scenario where success feels uncertain. Fear of failure can also make you scared to try new things, take risks, or embrace the process of growth. If your focus is too rewards-driven, you may find yourself…
Underestimating your abilities
Worried you will disappoint others if you don’t succeed
Shifting your focus from reward to effort, improves your ability to challenge any doubts or fear of failure. An effort-focused mindset enhances your ability to see the power in your progress and gives you the momentum to stay consistent when change does not happen according to your timetable. Staying focused on your effort, will help you expand your view of progress. It can help you view your health beyond the numbers on the scale and realize that you’re breathing better when you walk up the stairs. Effort consistently whispers in your ear “keep going, you are doing great”. Just because you can’t see change doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
4. Commit to consistently following a proven plan.
When it comes to making goals and resolutions about 90% of people acknowledge they do not meet their goals, that they fail at their goals because they won't commit to a plan. Success is a science that emphasizes when you consistently follow the right steps, you will achieve your goals. Your work is to execute the plan. Imagine having a blueprint and being in the process of building your own house. Then a friend comes along and asks how it's going. You respond by saying, “I have a great blueprint.
Sometimes I follow it, sometimes I don’t. It just depends on my mood”. If this is your mentality when working on your health, building relationships, or working as an entrepreneur, your foundation will be unstable and fail to support the magnitude of what you desire for your life. What makes a good plan? An effective plan will be clear and concise, yet appropriately adapt to the changing dynamics of your life. It will offer you guidance on how to maintain new routines when unexpected situations surface. A well-established plan will also be realistic, offer various levels of accountability, and encourage you to track and reflect on your growth.
5. Challenge the desire to look for quick fixes and shortcuts to achieving success.
Let’s be honest, the struggles in your life didn’t develop overnight. So, it will take you more than a few days to feel miraculous and receive the full benefits of your efforts. Quick fix mentality isn’t rooted in a true desire for change, it is rooted in a desire to “make it stop hurting” or “relieve me from the consequences of my actions”. Ouch! Those statements may have stung a little, but there is an element f change that requires us to be honest about the role we have play. Life is hard enough without denying that we may be standing in our own way. I want you to understand that seeking shortcuts is a direct barrier to establishing new routines. Shortcuts will short-circuit your success, leaving you with a false sense of confidence. They reinforce impulse behaviors and diminish your ability to tolerate distress. To disrupt cycles of impulse behaviors, response inhibition must be developed. This means learning to create distance between an activating stimulus and how you respond. Daily routines are one of the best ways to create space for change, guide your choices, and keep you in alignment with your values. Quick fixes and shortcuts only seek a way of escape. You then miss the opportunity to unpack your emotions, understand the root of your responses, and make decisions that empower your autonomy and agency.
6. Less is more.
Creating ten goals in multiple areas of your life exceeds your brain’s capacity for cognitive processing and creating new habits. We aren’t wired to focus on more than one thing at a time and doing so lowers efficiency. Multitasking is linked to the increased production of cortisol, a stress hormone that raises your blood sugar, depletes your energy, and impacts cravings and appetite. So, instead of a long list of goals, consider having two to three interrelated and measurable goals and work on stacking your habits. What does look like in real life? First, identify one area you want to address and one to two action steps that will help implement new patterns. Then identify a current daily habit and then stack your new behavior on top. For example, if you want to spend more time on personal development you might find a book and a podcast related to your chosen focus. You then review your schedule and realize a few days a week you have a 15–20-minute drive by yourself. This is called habit stacking, which is a special form of implementing your intentions. Rather than pairing your new habit with a particular time and location, you pair it with a current habit which will typically increase consistency and induces feelings of immediate success.
Work through the principles in this article and pair them with sources of accountability and encouragement to support you when you’re feeling down. Working with a coach or accountability group can help you accomplish more and provides positive reinforcement.
Create a small routine by making small adjustments that will help you get started. This is not a race, so be patient and take your time. You can rise up from anything and recreate yourself.
You have the ability to think of new thoughts and create new habits. You have choices, but you must decide that you are tired of looking back.
Dr. Charryse Johnson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Dr. Charryse Johnson is an author, speaker, and mental health consultant whose work focuses on the intersection of integrative wellness, neuroscience, and mental health. She is the founder of Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness, an integrative therapy practice where personal values, the search for meaning, and the power of choice are the central focus. Dr.Johnson works with clients and organizations across the nation and has an extensive background and training in education, crisis and trauma, neuroscience, and identity development.