Are you already failing at your New Year’s resolutions? Did you start with good intentions and things have slid downhill already? And now you’re beating yourself up about it? Read on to find out why New Year’s resolutions never work and how you can affect actual change!
The Science behind it
The negative primitive part of your brain is not innovative because it’s not an intellectual resource. It can’t get creative around solutions for problems. For this reason, it’s very ‘black and white.’ There is no room for a grey area or any errors.
When you make a resolution to correct a behaviour, you go from one extreme to the other: If you’ve been eating badly, you resolve to say NO to ALL sugar. If you’ve had too much alcohol over the festive period then Dry January appeals. And if you’ve let your fitness slide then you think you need to begin training for a triathlon.
But going from one extreme to the other like this means that you remain in the negative primitive part of your brain. You’ve not actually created any change as you are still consumed by the problem and not being solution-focused about it.
So instead, we need to work with the ‘grey area’ of the intelligent brain. This part of the brain is much more creative and objective. In this part of the brain, you’ll be far more relaxed and realistic about your goals. You’ll set more realistic boundaries and you won’t catastrophise when you make the tiniest of slip-ups. Your resolutions are much more sustainable long-term when you engage more from the intelligent brain.
New Year’s Resolutions: What you can do instead
I believe that understanding the science behind how the brain works is a great start for change, so I hope the above helps. Here’s how you can use it to your advantage by following these tips:
1. Set realistic goals
When your stress bucket is overflowing setting an unachievable goal can panic you even more. Make small steps in the right direction instead of panicking and doing nothing at all because it’s too scary.
Instead of saying no to all sugar maybe begin by having no added sugar in your tea or coffee. Instead of training for a triathlon begin with working up to doing a gentle 3k jog around the park.
Large goals are brilliant but if you have a full stress bucket then they can really feel insurmountable. Small steps do not alert the primitive brain, it allows you to keep rational control instead.
2. Don’t panic if you slip up
The primitive brain’s response to failure is to catastrophise. Remember you are a human being, not a robot, and you will make mistakes. Instead of catastrophising and abolishing all your goals, put it down to a bad day or even a bad hour and resolve that you will continue to try your best.
Habits are hard to change and they can’t be changed all in one go at the beginning of the year. Look ahead. Even if you slip up in January – how would you feel if your good habits kept going through February or through the next 6 months?
I guarantee if you kept going, you’ll forget all about those early sip-ups you had.
3. Get comfortable in the grey area
There is something profoundly gentle in the grey area between the black-and-white thinking. Learn to love that place. Don’t feel you need to follow strict rules. If you begin to think like this you will find yourself getting more creative about solutions that work for you instead of following strict, and often impossible, guidelines.
For example, people often talk about the 80:20 rule when it comes to healthy eating; try to eat well for 80% of the time and be more relaxed about the remaining 20%. This is a great start in understanding that we don’t need to be perfect.
But if you find even this difficult, then how about 75:25 or even 60:40. You can gradually work upwards from there but making a start with these realistic goals will be easier and far more sustainable.
Understand that your intelligent brain has all the solutions that work for you. It’s in this part of the brain that you feel most in control. To effect any change, not just New Year’s resolutions, it’s important to step away from any perfectionist tendencies. Be kind to yourself and get comfortable with ‘being enough’.