The New Year’s resolution is upon us. Every year we try, wholeheartedly, with an earnestness earmarked by denial, or some sort of a bizarre amnesia that refuses to consider the fact that we’ve never, ever, actually made it past the first few months of that resolution. In fact, only a small percentage of us succeed at keeping a New Year’s resolution. So why bother? Well, according to Statistic Brain, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.”
So, why are resolutions so hard to keep? The reason we have any habit, good or bad, is because we’ve created a groove in our brain that takes us to that behavior on autopilot. That well-worn track is called a neural pathway, and it’s our brain’s way of taking the path of least resistance. Basically, it takes the route it always does because it’s easier, reliable, and it allows the brain to preserve its energy for other tasks. Unfortunately, sometimes the path we’ve taken (compulsive snacking, procrastinating, Facebook binging) is one we wish we weren’t traveling down. Even if we decide we’re “never ever doing that again!” there’s a lot of gray matter working against us. The good thing about neural pathways is that the plasticity of our brain allows us to create new ones. We’ve just got to get into the new groove, literally.
Here are a few things to hold onto as you forge your new pathway into 2018:
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Think about the first time you learned to do anything; there was a slight itch, a gnawing irritation just below the surface, an annoyance at not being able to master the task at hand. That irritating feeling is actually the sweet spot of change. Change occurs right after you’ve reached a true boiling point. When you just can’t take it any longer; all you need is one more push (ask any woman that’s had a baby). It’s in this final stretch that the rewiring of a familiar habit takes place. You have two options: Push forward and breakthrough, or surrender to defeat. The good news is that once you think you can’t take it anymore, you’re almost there.
AVOID A FAD
One of the most popular things we resolve to do every year is to lose weight. Optimizing your health is a great resolution, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that long-term change is about building sustainability. Commit to three days a week at the gym for the whole year as opposed to a daily regimen that burns you out within the first month. Don’t overcommit. Aim for something you can actually manage for the long haul.
One of the ways to trick your brain into its New Year’s routine is to add a behavior instead of taking one away. For example, if you’d like to stop eating large quantities of meat, you might consider adding more greens and vegetables to your diet, or a green juice every day. This trick allows your brain to develop a new behavior without experiencing the feeling of deprivation, all the while making baby steps towards the new result.
Although giving up chocolate seems like a good idea (not!), it might not be meaningful enough for you to hold onto. Find a resolution worth fighting for. Reflect on your core values and dig for a resolution that’s in alignment with the best, most meaningful part of your life. If you could truly change anything about yourself, what would it be and why? The more clearly you can articulate the why, the deeper your reasons will be, and, consequently, the deeper the resolve will be.
REINVEST IN THE BASICS
If you can’t figure out what’s worth changing, a good starting point is to reinvest in the basics. The basics are your foundation; the things that keep you steady through the years as you go through many transformations. Imagine that your life is a house, and every year brings a new renovation (or resolution). You wouldn’t start building new rooms, or buying new furniture if your foundation was falling apart. Refocus on the foundation: Pay off your debt, nurture the relationships you already have, take care of your immediate surroundings, and fix all the things you’ve been meaning to fix. By paying attention to what we have, we cease being concerned with what we don’t have. From this place of gratitude, we can build things that are in alignment with our truest values.
PROMISE TO FINALLY LET GO
Declutter your space and your mind. Say goodbye to all of the clothes you’re never going to wear and the ghosts of lovers past. There’s a reason we call it the New Year, not the drag-your-old-baggage-around-again year. The only way to bring anything new into your life is to first make room for it. Holding on to anything too tightly signals fear and a lack of trust in the process of life, and a large amount of that mental energy might be best served to forge new pathways.
Perhaps the greatest tool to solidifying your New Year’s resolution is to add a practice of meditation. It’s not just for yogis and peace-loving hippies anymore. Research shows that meditation cultivates willpower, builds focus and concentration, and boosts cognitive function; all the things you’ll need to maintain to succeed in your resolution. Just 20 minutes a day will change your world. We dare you to try, and so does Oprah. Check out her 21-day challenge here.
RESOLVE TO MAKE YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE
This is perhaps the most obvious, yet often the hardest. If you’ve been quietly sitting on a personal dream and watching the years go by, this is the year to not do that again. Investing in your personal dream means putting it all on the line, and the overwhelm of that daring reality is something we often choose to put off for another day. Just one bold action towards the direction of your dream can be the jump start that allows your brain to begin making new connections and see the true potential in that silently whispering dream.
Declare your love for 2018 and make a resolution worth fighting for. Share it with us on twitter here.