It’s that time of year, just a few weeks into January. The excitement of a new year creates new hopes and aspirations which allows us all to consider the possibility creating a brand New YOU.
It is estimated that 188 million Americans made New Year’s Resolutions for 2021. The first few days and weeks of this commitment seem easy enough right? Workout most every day, eat more fruits and veggies and less carbs or sugar laden foods, save some money or pay off a debt, read the books lying around your house, spend less time on social media and binging on Netflix, get that promotion at work you’ve been shooting for, invest time in your most important relationships.
For these first few weeks of January, we are living the life we’ve always dreamed of, and actually being the person we’ve strived to be. “This isn’t all that hard”- we say to ourselves- “I can do this!” “This is the year that I will actually keep my commitments and become the best version of myself.”
Many have lived this scenario over and over again, year after year only to fall short. Sadly, many of the New Year’s promises we’ve made to ourselves have already been broken, and less that 10% of the population will keep these promises through Valentines Day.
Why is this? Why do we have such a hard time keeping even the most basic of promises to ourselves like focusing on our health? The answer is simple- it’s how we are designed, basically it’s in our DNA.
Think about us as a species. Human beings have been on the planet now for about 200,000 years. While we’ve evolved and modernized our standards of living, our brains are basically the same brains we had 200,000 years ago. At a basic level our brain has one key over-riding default function- KEEP US ALIVE…PERIOD. That’s it! Our brains are designed to keep us breathing and keep us out of harms way, which I why change can be very difficult for us.
Think about early man wandering around the planet- one day you and your buddy venture into a dark cave and suddenly your friend gets mauled by a sabre tooth tiger- you somehow escape to live another day. Your brain has now coded that “dark caves = danger– don’t just wander into them.” Most of us still have some fear of the darkness as it represents the “unknown” and our brains despise unknowns and usually codes them as extremely dangerous.
Maybe later on you and another buddy are walking close to a cliff, you friend slips and perishes down a 10,000 foot gorge- you brain codes this “Don’t walk close to the edge” “Stay on the path.” You brain does this all day, every day unconsciously connecting and coding information so you can continue live your life and go about your business- out of harms way. This thought process forces us to go with what we already know- or the way we’ve always done it and avoid deviating from this course all cost.
What’s really happening here is your brain is creating habits and patterns designed to keep you alive and keep you breathing. These patterns are the reason why we’ve survived as a species all these years. Change is the enemy of patterns and routines and therefore change is coded by our brains as “Dangerous- avoid change or perish”– Essentially our default mode tells us that doing things the same way means staying alive.
You’re probably wondering how this has anything to do with your broken New Year’s resolution right? Think about it. Many of your patterns and habits have been with you for years. They are ingrained in how you do just about everyone. Your brain has coded these patterns as safe and essential for you to stay alive. Remember our brain has one primary function- keep you alive. So essentially if you are alive and breathing today, according to our brains, that’s good enough! When you deviate from a pattern or habit- your brain codes that as dangerous and fights you every day to go back to your “default mode” or “safe mode”
You brain isn’t concerned about you being a better version of yourself, losing weight, eating healthy or paying down debt. It just wants you to live to see tomorrow. We simply aren’t designed for radical change and that why when we attempt to make massive adjustments in our businesses and in our lives, we can usually only sustain this for a few weeks at best. We are constantly battling this massive gravitational pull to go back to “the way we’ve always done it”
So what are we to do? How do we make those changes that will allow us to live the lives we’ve always dreamed about? The good news is our brains are not concrete blocks, they are pliable and elastic and have the ability to learn new patterns and new habits. The hard part is that in order to learn a new more productive habit we first get to unlearn the old habit. And anyone that’s tried to quit smoking can attest to just how hard unlearning a habit can be.
Here’s a simple strategy to start unlearning and relearning a new pattern or habit.
Identify the unproductive pattern or habit that you would plan to change.
Really dig into this and figure out why it’s become so comfortable for you.
Now list off all the consequences of continuing this habit- what is the impact on yourself and those around you. Ask yourself if you are committed enough to change this, or if you are ok with these outcomes. Change is hard enough, if you aren’t 100 % committed then good luck to you.
Think about the new habit you plan to implement into your life. Identify all the positive outcomes and impact applying this new habit will provide for you. Ask yourself if this is something you are truly committed to- remember you have to really want it.
I encourage you to start small here if you plan for any type of success.
Example: If you are currently not exercising at all- do not make a commitment to work our everyday at 5am for 2 hours. We aren’t designed to go from zero- 100 like a sports car. Starting small might be working out 2-3 x per week for 20 or 30 minutes- or taking a walk a few times a week. The key here is to really be honest with yourself and decide what you can actually commit and stick to.
Now put a timeline for this new habit- Think short term, 4-6 weeks. See if you can stick to your new habit and routine for this shorter term- don’t think 3 -6 months just yet. Small incremental shifts- Quarter Turns- that’s what will cause you to build momentum and ultimately create sustainable changes in your life.
Here’s where many people blow it- be flexible enough to adjust your new habit- maybe you can only commit to 2 times per week instead of 3- that’s ok. The mistake here is many beat themselves up every time it doesn’t go perfectly, or you miss one day here or there. That’s usually what causes people to go back to default mode and blow the entire thing. Creating a new habit isn’t about perfection- its’ about results. Failure isn’t fatal- just rinse- repeat and recommit to the goal or make adjustments as necessary.
Now once you’ve kept your commitment for 4-6 weeks- make sure you celebrate your success! It’s ok to feel good about accomplishing your goal and even to share it with someone. So many people forget this all important step- don’t be one of them. When you cross the goal line, spike the ball and do your funky touchdown dance!
So now that you’ve proven you can keep your commitment- make a new one or add a bit to the old one. Again, make a short-term time frame – 4 to 6 weeks, see how it goes, make your adjustments and above all give yourself some leeway if you screw up a few times, and give yourself a pat on the back when you get back on track.
The journey to becoming the person you plan to become is not a straight line, but rather a zig zag, forward and backward type of roadmap. It’s taken you years to develop the patterns and habits you have today- so give yourself time to create some new habits and patterns.
New Year’s Resolutions are fine, but we are talking more about long term solutions and these solutions are always going to be a work in progress.
Here’s to making your New Year’s Resolutions a Reality in 2021
One Quarter Turn at a Time