“This year I’m going to exercise more.”
“I’m going to get out of debt.”
“I’m going to lose 15 lbs.”
“I’m going to learn to speak Spanish.”
“I’m going to volunteer more.”
Many of us have made resolutions similar to these. According to Time magazine, at least 48% of Americans are likely to make New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of a year, yet 35% never get started on keeping them and the other 65% kept them only a few months. As we look back on the year that is ending, we often see changes we would like to make in ourselves which leads us to make resolutions. Change is good; it is how we grow and become more the person we want to be. In this article I would like to share some ideas of how you can help yourself achieve the changes you desire, whether you make New Year’s resolutions or just wake up some day wanting something different. We all have the capacity to stop doing the things that are keeping us stuck and the ability to live a life of greater fulfillment and happiness.
Keys to Change
Change isn’t easy. In fact it is easier to keep doing what we’ve been doing. The first step in changing is deciding what it is you want to change. It is important to choose a goal that you really want to achieve; something that really matters to you so that when the hard work of change begins you will have the motivation to stick with it. Your goal should be realistic and have measurable results.
Once you know what it is you want it is important to create a plan. Otherwise it is just wishful thinking. Break it down into small steps you can manage. If the goal is to volunteer more in the community, start by making a list of all the places that might need volunteers and then plan to call each one to find out more of what each place needs. Contrary to what many believe, action precedes motivation. Often we think we need to wait for the right moment or when we “feel” we are ready, but it doesn’t work that way. Instead of waiting for inspiration to strike we need to take action first and trust that we will be rewarded with the good feelings that come from doing something new and challenging. As we begin to feel better, our motivation to continue with the change increases. If you have ever had to drag yourself out to an exercise session you know what I’m talking about. Ten minutes into it you start to feel better and afterwards you cannot remember why you ever thought of skipping it.
Avoid thinking you have to be perfect in achieving your goal. Eating too much on one day does not have to mean you give up on the dream of becoming healthier. Just resolve to get back with your plan the next day.
Also try setting positive goals such as “I will eat more vegetables and fruit” instead of “I will give up ice cream, baked goods and everything chocolate.”
Why Isn’t This Easy?
But how is it that often we decide and plan to do one thing and end up doing just the opposite? We decide to start eating more healthy food and find ourselves eating chips and cookies instead, or plan to get control of our expenses and yet find several books we “need” on Amazon, not to mention all the after-holiday sales we would be crazy to miss. When it comes to doing what we “should”, those things we make resolutions to change, we are often filled with contradictions.
According to neurologist, Paul MacLean, as noted in M. J. Ryan’s book This Year I Will, the reason we find ourselves acting in contradictory ways is because we have not one, but three brains in our heads. Though these brains are connected, they often act independently from one another and often at odds with the others. Dr. MacLean describes these brains as follows: The most primitive is the “reptilian” brain, the instinctive part which controls all bodily functions, such as breathing. The second brain is our emotional brain which is concerned with feelings, in particular “pleasure”, “pain” “safety” and “danger”. It pushes us toward pleasure and away from pain. The third brain is the thinking brain, that part which allows us to reason, to imagine, to plan, and decides to initiate a change.
Trouble comes when the emotional brain won’t go along with the change if it does not appear to provide pleasure or safety. If we really want to be successful in keeping our resolutions we need to get our emotions on our side. Change occurs not because it makes sense or is something we should be doing, but because it is something that will make us feel better. What we need to look for in setting our goals is something that is fun, easy, new and different. So “exercising regularly” could mean enjoying my physical abilities and perhaps the outdoors. “Volunteering more” means I’ll have a sense of purpose and the ability to meet other like minded people.
Whether or not you decide to make some New Year’s resolutions, I hope your new year will bring peace and happiness and a way to spread the same benefits to others throughout our community.