It’s that time of the year again when we start thinking about the (in)famous New Year’s resolutions. Change can be a frustrating experience for many. So, I decided to investigate what may increase your chances of success. I would like to propose a framework that combines the science of behavior change with the idea that we are able to rewire our brains to improve our health, well-being, and overall quality of life, called neuroplasticity. So, grab a piece of paper to write down the answers to the questions below.
1. Why do you want to make the change?
Make sure you find your true motivation. Try to look beyond the need to change. Look at the real life benefits of the change. What makes you want to change? Do you want to be well so you can really enjoy that trip in the summer? Do you want to be able to keep up with your grandchildren? Or just because you want to look better? Try to go deep into your soul and emotions. Try to imagine how your life would be after you’ve made the change.
2. Is your goal concrete and measurable?
A goal should be specific, achievable, and measurable. For a lot of people, the goal is a number on the scale. However, you could consider running a 5k race as your goal, for example. It is important not to be too ambitious. A lot of people aim for a goal that may be too hard to achieve. Most long-term change happens slowly, so identify small changes that you can make successfully. Change is a process, not an event.
3. What is your plan?
The old saying holds true: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Be realistic about what you can do. Keep it simple and be precise. How much and how often would you like to practice your new habit? For example: I will replace ice cream with a piece of fruit after dinner three nights a week. I will listen to my Learn Spanish lessons twice a week for 30 minutes. I will practice deep breathing for one minute after I put the children to bed. Write these down on a calendar and put it on a wall at home or in your office. Another great idea is to download apps that help you track your progress.
4. Who can support you as you work toward change?
Write down with whom you intend to share your plan. Ask for their support. People who truly love you will help you on this journey. Post your goals on social media. This will show your commitment to change. Change is usually a team effort. Find a partner you can go to the grocery store with, cook with, or go for a walk with. This can be a spouse, friend, or neighbor. You can also take advantage of the virtual world — there are plenty of apps and online support groups available for free and through social media. Use the power of the community to learn about other people’s progress and share what is working for you.
5. How will you celebrate your victories?
Every time you take a step toward your goals, make sure you reflect on the experience for 10 to 20 seconds. Make it big and rich. Incorporate the feeling of accomplishment and be mindful of how rewarding it is and how great it feels to achieve your goal that day. Bring emotion and feelings to what you just did. For example: I feel healthy and nourished after eating more fruits and vegetables. I feel relaxed and calm after exercising. It will help you later in the day to recall how positive and important this experience was for you. Stay present with this good, positive feeling for 10 to 20 seconds a few times a day. Let it sink in and try to truly feel how gratifying it is.
This last item is sometimes forgotten, and sometimes it’s what you need to make the new activity really stick. Practice is fundamental, but practice alone does not equal learning. Walking for 15 minutes three times a week is important, but savoring the exercise as something that makes you feel stronger and healthier with less pain is the reason why you will continue to walk.
You are teaching your brain how to learn and get better at learning. You will start to shift from simple plans and goals to a habit, something that will be part of you for the long term.
This is a journey
Do not get angry with yourself if you fail. Setbacks are to be expected and are part of the learning process. Forgive yourself and reflect on what happened. Think through the barriers to achieving your goal and try again. January first is just a day in the calendar. You can reset your calendar every day for a fresh start. Go back to the beginning and revisit that first question to remind yourself of the rewards of making the change. Perhaps you need to rewrite your plan. Be patient. You have already planted the seed for success; it is all about changing your mindset now. For me, I am hoping to increase my physical flexibility and decrease my risk of injuries. Stretches will be part of my workout routine in 2018. Wish me luck.
I wish you happiness and success in 2018!