Let’s take a moment and talk about new year resolutions. At the turn of a new year this is one of the most used phrases and everyone is so curious about the changes another person is going to make in their lives in the upcoming year. However, most of us fail to make our resolutions a reality. According to a quick google search an astounding 43% are expected to fail before February. Businesses like gyms take full advantage of this opportunity locking you into a yearlong contract. Gym rats hate January because their benches are always taken only for them to open just before the next month. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t necessarily mad it’s a crowded gym, they are more upset that the people crowding the gym are going to quit. Oh yeah, and it’s estimated a measly 9% of those who set a new year resolution succeed by the following year.
How do you stack the odds in your favor? How do you become a part of the 9%?
Change your resolution which is defined as “the act of determining” or something that is resolved” (2023), into a goal or “the end toward which effort is directed” (2023). A goal is a tangible objective that you set out to achieve with purpose, drive, and motivation. The difference seems subtle I know, but it is important. Just saying something is resolved is very different than putting effort, drive, and motivation into something that you want to change. Now that we have definitions out of the way let’s look at psychology.
In basic human psychology or literally psy101 you learn about neuropathways in the brain. How signals are sent from the brain to the rest of your body. You learn about some of the hormones or chemicals your brain produces when you do an activity that produces a positive result or makes you feel good. One of these chemicals is called dopamine and it is responsible for making you feel good in that moment. Addictions are developed because of dopamine dumps. The first couple of times you drink alcohol dopamine floods the pleasure centers of your brain. However, continued abuse leads to an impairment of dopamine leading an individual chasing that initial feelgood feeling without success. Drugs such as opiates, nicotine and cocaine cause an initial dump 10x the normal amount leading to first time use addictions. Pornography and risky sexual activities also lead do a dopamine dump leading to the potential for addiction. We as humans are hardwired for the easy solution. Developing addictions or bad habits is incredibly easy. But developing good habits is hard.
So why did I go down this rabbit hole?
If your goal is to break a bad habit, then you are fighting an uphill battle against your own brain and naturally produced body chemicals. You will feel like crap, a lot. If you are fighting against alcohol, I would suggest getting help and being careful, the withdrawals themselves can be life threatening. If your goal is to create new positive habits, you need to find a way to activate the feel-good center of your brain while doing these new things to create a dopamine dump that will make you want to do it again.
How do you set effective goals?
- The Air Force teaches SMART goals, and it is a great way to start.
- Write them down
- Read them every day
- Create milestones or small goals within your original overarching goal to start the process of tricking your brain.
- Create small steps to accomplish these milestones.
- Trick your brain: have you ever noticed that when you cross items off a list it motivates you to do more? My wife is a master at this, she will intentionally create a list where the first two or three items are things she already accomplished. I used to think she was silly, but she is on to something. The feeling of accomplishment is pleasurable, and it is triggered by a dopamine dump. Crossing items off a list makes you feel like you accomplished something thus you are tricking your brain into a dopamine dump where you are now more likely to continue following your list.
Accomplishing a goal is all about human psychology. We are hardwired for the easy path in life and sticking to a goal is just the opposite. It is literally you against yourself. So, ultimately the way to go about it is breaking a large goal into small bite-sized chunks to make it as easy as possible and trick our brain into submission.