Harness the power of neuroscience to make your New Year’s resolutions stick, says Jayney Goddard
Are you planning to make any resolutions this year? I am and lots of people do, however, getting them to stick is no easy task. In fact, not to put too much of a downer on things, but research suggests that circa 88 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail! So why is this – and can we do anything to change that?
Well, happily, yes we can, but first of all, let’s look at why resolutions fail. It happens because willpower is actually a really hard thing to develop and keep. This is because the part of your brain that deals with creating willpower, the prefrontal cortex, is responsible for helping you concentrate. It deals with short-term memory and is the area that you use to solve complex problems – there’s a lot going on. So, sticking to resolutions is, quite honestly, the last of your prefrontal cortex’s top concerns.
However, the flip side is that you can actually ‘hack’ your brain and get your innate neurology to work for you. To activate the steps you need to take to make changes that translate into stickable New Year’s resolutions (or any other life changes that you might wish to make at any time of the year too). Here’s how to harness the power of your mighty prefrontal cortex and get it working for you, so that your willpower grows exponentially.
Willpower is strengthened by exercising it – a bit like a muscle, in a way. However, if we over-stretch it by giving our prefrontal cortex too many tasks it will, like a muscle, fail.
Strengthen your willpower by making really small changes by breaking up patterns of actions that you do almost subconsciously. Try brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand, putting your shoes on differently to your normal routine and getting out of the other side of the bed. All these will cause sufficient pattern disruption to make your brain more receptive to change. These small ‘acts of will’, as I like to term them, actually exercise your prefrontal cortex. But it does get tired – so don’t overdo it with all the new things you are doing.
Think about your resolutions. Do you really want them, or are they things that other people want you to do? If it’s the latter, then it is highly unlikely that you’ll be able to get them to stick. The following illustrates the importance of a desire for change: I help my clients to get super-healthy, so, if I have a client who wants to make a change – let’s say they want to give up smoking – I will work with them to do this and we get an incredibly high success rate. However, if someone comes to me to stop smoking because their partner wants them to – but they, themselves, are ambivalent – I simply can’t help them, as it just won’t work longterm. In order to make changes your heart has to be in it.
Ensure that your resolution is something that you really need – deep down – and that it is something really positive in your life. Your neurology isn’t stupid and if your prefrontal cortex isn’t convinced about the absolute necessity of making the desired change then it simply won’t allocate resources to supporting that change – it has enough to do already. Here are some things to bear in mind:
Be an early bird: We have the most willpower when we wake up – so if doing more exercise is your goal then get to the gym, go for a walk or a run first thing. Buddy up – try to find a group of people who will help you to stick to your resolutions. Beware family members though, as they are not always the best people to turn to for support, especially if you are trying to make lifestyle changes, as they can sometimes be discouraging – particularly if your attempts highlight things in their own lives that they would like to change but lack the real desire to.
Beware sabotage: Stress, tiredness and even low blood sugar can all put the kibosh on our resolutions. It’s been shown that when we are stressed, tired or hungry, we make much poorer decisions – and this can totally derail you.
Load up on veg: I know this sounds really crazy, but we are far more likely to be able to make good decisions if we reduce meat and other animal proteins in our diet and emphasise healthy whole foods. There are many reasons for this, including lower levels of inflammation, better blood sugar balance, hormonal balance and more.
Reward good behaviour: This takes a little creative thinking, but healthy rewards work best and our brains respond really well to positive reinforcement – it’s a bit like puppy training!
Lastly, don’t go it alone. Interestingly, people who think that they have the most willpower are usually the ones who fail first – it’s because they don’t pay attention to the things that can trip them up. It really is best to have a buddy system for support and accountability. To help you with this, I have a New Year’s 30-day Challenge for you in my private Facebook group (Rewind Your Body Clock with Jayney Goddard). Starting on the 1st January 2019, you’ll be able to join with a group of your peers – all of whom are committed to making positive life changes. It doesn’t matter what your desired change is. In fact, you don’t even have to specify what it is in the group if you don’t want to. Just being there with positive people, in a really supportive environment, is enough to give you the help you need to make those changes sustainable. I will also be there with suggestions of steps you can take each day to hack your neurology with tips like the pattern disruptions I spoke about earlier. I will have suggestions for meals, relaxation exercises, reward activities and much more. I will also send you a daily email, if you wish, to support you and keep you on track throughout the year. You can join my email list at jayneygoddard.org
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