So many of us (42% of Americans) make New Year’s resolutions each year. We’re hopeful, and we’re sincere. The New Year gives each of us the promise of a fresh start. We want to eat healthy or lose weight (21.4%), we want to improve our life (12.3%), or improve our finances (8.5%) or quit smoking (7.1%). But in this survey of over 1,500 people done on 1/1/2017, more than 90% said they had never succeeded with their resolutions in past years.
Even so, people who explicitly make resolutions are ten times more likely to succeed than those who don’t. So, the question is how do we change our approach so that this year we can finally accomplish our goal?
5 Keys to Achieving Any Goal
As Dr. Evian Gordon explains in The Brain Revolution, change is hard for all of us because ANY change is perceived by our brain as a threat to our safety and “safety first” is the brain’s core driver. Any change to the status quo brings fear of failure on a nonconscious level. We can override this with a conscious choice to implement the change. If we choose the change, accept the change, and believe it will be tied to a future reward, our brain will start to see the change as beneficial if we repeatedly acknowledge it to ourselves.
One Day at a Time
First, we need to understand that any goal is achieved over the long term. Setting a goal too high or too far away in time can cause us to self-sabotage and fail. It is a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to go into it pacing ourselves. So often, we become disappointed when we don’t see big results immediately. We get frustrated, other things distract us, obstacles appear, and we quit. Once we know that this is a common pattern for lots of people (and possibly for us in the past), we can build in some milestones to keep us enthused along the way.
That way, if you need to lose 50 pounds, you can celebrate each pound lost. If you need to work out but don’t want to, start with 10 minutes a day. In both cases, as you start to feel better, that feeling will encourage you to stay on the path.
When it comes to writing, there are many ways to avoid the big blank page. You could warm up to your writing session by having a list of topics that interest you. Pull an idea out and write about it for 10 minutes or 500 words. If you are at a point in your manuscript where you feel stuck, look over your outline and find a topic that appeals to you and start writing about that. Once you’re warmed up, go on to the writing you need to do.
Do It Your Way
Second, be strategic. Incorporate methods that you enjoy (or at least dislike less) to achieve your goal. Give yourself a cheat day once a week so that you follow your diet for six days and have what you love to eat one day. That way, you won’t feel deprived and will still be working toward your goal. Choose a workout you like—the point is to get moving. You get to choose the way you do it.
Most of us love to use our phones for all kinds of things. If you haven’t tried speaking your books or articles, you might be surprised at how much you like it. Start recording with your phone or with some speech recognition software using an outline. It can make writing natural and easy.
Know Your Why
Third, since our brain’s first goal is to keep us safe, it creates many automatic negative thoughts about the consequences of doing anything new. These thoughts can keep us from focusing fully in the moment; they can magnify the problems instead of the solution and keep us from peak performance.
When successful authors are interviewed about why they write, some are fascinated by their subject, but many write because they anticipate how helpful their work will be to others. People often want to lose weight or get fit for other family members. Having a reason outside yourself can be a great motivating factor. Knowing your big “why” for doing something can keep you in the game through many obstacles, even at times when your willpower fails. Remind yourself daily why your goal is important and how it can benefit people around you.
Believe You Can Achieve It
Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.
— Henry Ford
Fourth, the above quotation might sound like an affirmation and even a little “woo-woo,” but studies have shown that Henry Ford is exactly right. Michael Jordan practiced seeing himself win, and so did Mohamed Ali. Studies on peak performers have shown them to have an innate ability to choose course corrections that keep them on track. But this ability is a skill that can be learned.
Have you heard about being “in the zone” or “in flow?” Peak performers in many fields reach this state by training themselves to switch off their conscious brain with its intrusive thoughts and allow their nonconscious brain to dominate. It’s common sense, isn’t it, that this kind of selective focus would work?
Studies now show that our brain is not “set” at a certain point in our life where we no longer learn. We now know that the brain is “plastic,” (flexible) and we can learn new things throughout life.
We can literally reshape our brain through repeated conscious effort.
Retraining our brain to believe a goal is possible and visualizing yourself achieving it will counteract the limiting beliefs we all have about ourselves and our abilities. As we practice positive self-talk again and again, it has been shown that we actually change the structure of our brain so that our automatic bias becomes more positive.
Whatever your goal is, losing weight, getting fit, writing a book, or something else, believe that your effort will pay off and that you will improve if you work at it. It will make your journey toward the goal easier and your achievement of that goal more certain.
Choose Your Friends Wisely
“We are the company we keep.” That’s an old expression, but science shows that the people we spend time with influence us in many important ways. They affect our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and their values even become ours.
It’s important then that your peers should share your values. If you don’t have many friends like that, why not go and find some. There are groups and free forums on the Internet to support any goal you are trying to achieve. It’s never been so easy to find like-minded people who are working toward what you want. You can share your knowledge and help each other out.
Know your goals, be aware of your thoughts and any negative thoughts that might subvert your goals. Negative thoughts are a part of our “brain equipment,” but they don’t have to be true for you unless you let them. Knowledge is power. Once you believe you control your thoughts and they don’t control you, you have the tools you need to achieve your goals.