You hope this year will be different. You want to get off to a good start and tackle those things you didn’t get to last year. Going to the Internet, you search through the lists of how to tackle your resolutions and feel all revved up to get going. Unfortunately, you are now more likely to fail than succeed. While the Internet suggestions look intuitively convincing, few are based on how the mind and the brain actually work.
First and foremost, what we consciously decide is only a minor part of the equation. In reality, our brain unconsciously processes what we will or will not do before we are aware of it. To a large extent, our actual choices are decided outside of conscious control and to create real change we have to understand and work hand-in-hand with our unconscious. Then the whole of our being is on the same page working on the same track to reach the same results.
Here are eight counterintuitive suggestions that the research shows actually work:
- Be patient and consistent. Assume that any changes to your behavior will be hard going at first and that changing habits will take at least 6 weeks to become ‘natural’.
- Do not bully yourself or put yourself under pressure. Remind yourself gently and frequently what you intend to achieve but allow yourself plenty of time to get there. The unconscious is much slower to make lasting changes than we think.
- Do not tell other people about your goals! Keep your resolutions to yourself; think about them and make a list on your own. Spreading the word subtly decreases your motivation over the long run.
- Sit quietly for 15 minutes contemplating your goals. Before actually starting a task, see yourself doing it in your minds eye: exercising, eating well, being calmer, finishing tasks. Your brain processes the things you imagine as if you are actually practicing them.
- Break down large goals into smaller tasks and simply begin. You can ‘trick’ yourself into getting going on a challenging project by deciding to do only a small part and not making a big deal of it. Often once we make a get going, continuing with a task is much easier. Always, celebrate your successes, even if they are only a minor accomplishments.
- Practice random acts of self-control. Even something as simple as deciding to eat a meal more slowly or taking a moment to really look at an object strengthens your intentions. Will-power is like a muscle and gets stronger with practice regardless of what you focus on. Every conscious choice you carry through to completion makes you stronger.
- Break a bad habit by writing it down. Carry a small pad and pencil and note each time you do the problem behavior—procrastinating, snacking, losing time on the Internet, whatever. Make a quick note without judgment or self-criticism. The increased awareness makes change more likely.
- Replace your bad habit with an alternative action. Instead of trying to force yourself to stop, do something else that is satisfying. Go for a walk instead of watching television; clean out a closet instead of snacking. The stronger you build up alternative associations, the more likely you are to change the habit.
Use the techniques that seem to make most sense to you–and practice them consistently. Even if you use only a few, you greatly increase your chances of achieving your News Year’s resolutions. Good luck!