“Nothing happens until the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change.” – Arthur Burt
Everything in life is constantly evolving, shifting, and changing around us. With the stress of our data-driven revolution and text-a-second lifestyles, why would we want to add the stress of changing ourselves? I’ll explain.
There is a smoldering unconscious ember that sneaks into our psyches, yearning for something different. “This is the year!” we shout. The window of chance has come to make something happen with our lives, a moment when we abandon our old selves for other selves, and become people who realize they control the direction of their lives.
No Quick Fix
Reflection is commonplace around this time, as we mark the end of yet another year. It is a time to stop, gauge our progress, listen to our dreams, and set new goals. Statistics show that we only succeed with our New Year’s goals 8% of the time. Why is that?
Carrying out change requires repeated conditioning. The brain is physically wired to react in certain ways based on what it has done in the past. When a person decides to make a change, they are preparing to rewire their brain by making new connections over and over. Therefore, when a person makes a New Year’s resolution, they are deciding to create new circuitry in the brain. When it fails to stick, they have gone back to the already established conditioned pathways.
The conditioned ways are also known as our “comfort zones.” Whether it is the way we eat, think, talk, exercise, or cook dinner, we have our routines. It is difficult to change a neural pathway that is ingrained in our psyche. Why? Most likely the answer is habit. We just don’t want to leave the comfort of our minds. We like routine. But it is possible to leave our comfort zones by creating a measurable plan that will stick.
How to Really Change
1. Identify the Problem: Isolating one problem is a good place to begin. The problem needs to be very specific. Let’s examine a common New Year’s resolution: weight loss. If it isn’t measurable and realistic, it becomes a quick letdown, discouraging our old pathways and challenging our comfort zones.
The solution is to get very specific and go no more than 30 days out into the New Year. Then reset the following month, always measuring your progress and adjusting your plan as needed.
For example: “I will lose five pounds by January 31.” Let’s say you only lose four pounds, and you want to step up your game. Then you would need to eat less and exercise more as a new goal for February. New goal for February: Go from two days a week to three days a week on the treadmill and cut back on carbs for the next 30 days.
Get the idea? Keep it measurable—something you know you can do. Success comes from practice.
2. Get a Strategy: Once the plan to the resolution you want is clear, it is time to think outside the current pathways that have kept you where you are currently. What behavior would support the end result desired? What strategies do you need to have in place for this to happen?
Example: I will put in my Google calendar every day a reminder to be positive and realistic. I will also journal on Sunday evening my progress for the week and make adjustments as needed.
Example: I will eat three balanced meals each day, with a healthy protein snack in between meals. I will work out at the gym twice a week on the treadmill for 30 minutes. I will put in my calendar my strategy to be positive and also journal my progress on Sunday evening. In 30 days, I will measure my overall progress to see if I accomplished my goal and will make necessary changes for the next 30 days.
3. Tell Somebody: Once you know what you need to do, commit to yourself and tell another person. Ask someone you can trust to keep you accountable in milestones throughout your change. By building a support system, you are holding yourself accountable for the change.
I encourage you not to get a buddy for your goal, however, as that will put pressure on each of you to accommodate each other. Make this about you and you only. Have your support person be someone you look up to who might already be accomplishing what you want to accomplish.
4. Be Mindful and Prepare for Temptation: Easy is not what you want. You want to challenge the old pathways, so beware of a common go-to like over-snacking, drinking large amounts of alcohol, eating out, and engaging in mind-numbing activities. Even at our best we experience some resistance. As you repeatedly choose to follow your new behavior, the pathway in your brain will become more and more established, making it easier.
Stick to the plan, even when you don’t want to and your mind tells you otherwise. You are worth every effort! Remember, we ALL have to get back on the horse. I call this commit to the commitment.
5. Acknowledge Progress: A change is no easy feat, especially when we are challenging years of living a certain way. Plan a celebration into your goals. This is worth every bit of your time to plan this.
We all need acknowledgement—even our own. Plan it in your calendar. It can be as simple as allowing one day to take yourself to a movie, buying the book you always wanted, playing the slots, or taking a walk in the park. You can do this weekly or at the end of each month.
I encourage you to do it often, as long as it doesn’t take away from your goals. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, eating a donut would be off the mark. Go for the movie, skip the buttered popcorn, and bring your protein snack.
6. Remember You Are Human: Every one of us goes through this process of realizing our potential. You are like all of us who struggle, set goals, and either meet or fail to meet them. Don’t bring yourself down because you are human. Get back on track and give it another go. Remember why you are doing this—let that be your motivator. Progress, not perfection, is what you are going for.
7. A Truly New You: Perhaps the reason many people do not stick to their resolutions is because they are not aware of the strength of existing conditioned pathways. Making a true change is not simply saying, “I want to lose weight.” That is the first step that needs to be carefully investigated. True change happens by being curious and honest with yourself. Put your resolution into action with mindfulness, love, and support. With this approach, you will be on your way to a truly new you in 2014.
- Cherry, K. (n.d.). “What Is Brain Plasticity?” About.com. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/biopsychology/f/brain-plasticity.htm
- Freudenrich, Craig, PhD. (n.d.). “How Nerves Work.” HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved from http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/human-biology/nerve3.htm
- Paus, T. et al. (19 March 1999). Structural Maturation of Neural Pathways in Children and Adolescents: In Vivo Study. Science Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org/content/283/5409/1908.short
- Siegel, Daniel J. (2007). Mindfulness training and neural integration: differentiation of distinct streams of awareness and the cultivation of well-being. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/2/4/259.full
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