How to achieve a fulfilling New Year: Get your Brain to work for & not against you!

Happy New Year from HALA

So it is a new year and you have made that long list of New Year resolutions, perhaps for the last time before surrendering to join the other category of people that have entirely given up on the idea of making New Year resolutions (thinking why bother? too tired of beating myself over the head for the never attained targets). Well, let’s just give this a little thought shall we? For starts, a change of calendar date does not directly correlate with a change of events in a person’s life nor environmental factors but as humans, the new timing feels like a chance of been given a fresh opportunity, so the traditional thinking is understandable and would still be around for a good while.

Over time and with better understanding of how the human brain works, it is apparent why most resolutions fail- because of over ambitious targets and fallible dependence on our willpower to act as safe firewalls! The explanation is pretty simple: the seat of human willpower is a very busy escritoire who easily gets distracted with upcoming issues and other matters at hand.

Let’s begin this way, what if we rephrase it from being the traditional new year resolutions to keeping it as simple as it ought to really be: ‘Goal Setting’ so if you get my drift, your brain already reads it in an entirely different light because in the first place, rather than thinking from your dreamy-state place of idealism, you have just engaged the core part of your brain responsible for carrying out executive functions (the prefrontal cortex of the frontal lobe). In essence, imagine that you have been recently recruited to fill a new office and told to write out your job description- while it will be totally unrealistic to set a low standard, it would be absolutely ridiculous to over-exaggerate and shoot yourself in the foot! My point is that your brain ought to be at least this alert when making a serious resolution rather than just being an emotional wishful thinking exercise. This way, not only are you thinking straight, but also, there is the added advantage of helping your brain to actually picture your goal and through further analytical thinking, map out a strategic outline to achieving your set target.

TIP: Break down your overall goal into decisive but precise baby steps towards achieving the big picture, and reward yourself each step of the way with every little success.

What typically happens for most people is that at sober reflective moments like the end of the year, they decide on the ‘new’ policy and make accompanying firm resolve to follow through. The pre-frontal lobe is the part of the brain that coordinates processes such as planning, attention, solving abstract problems, working short term memory, multi-tasking, including willpower. As the days go by and life continues as usual in the same home, work and family environment routines alongside with new challenges, it really doesn’t take long (2 weeks for some people) for the pre-frontal cortex to get engrossed in other matters and literally ‘forget’ your New Year resolution. A repeated cycle of disappointment will naturally make one give in to the thought of having failed (again) and out the window goes the New Year resolution.

Another common trap is falling for the illusion that you can resist temptation by sheer self-control only. It’s just like recently quitting cigarette smoking but always having a handy pack in your pocket. What you may miss out is the fact that the brain is run via many chemicals one of which is called dopamine, that naturally takes on the hubby of re-enforcing any previous pathway that seemingly leads to pleasure, so little wonder why there is bound to be an irresistible urge whenever you get yourself into a similar environment. The trick? Step it down a bit rather than attempt to bulldoze your way through in cutting a habit, for instance, there is a good reason for nicotine patch you know.

TIP: Rather than struggle to break old habits, focus on building new practical solutions as habits

Having these vital pieces of information, hopefully you should be set to get your brain to work in tandem with you to achieve a fulfilling 2012.

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