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Neuroscience + Keeping Resolutions

Let's talk about resolutions and why they can be such a struggle to keep. Here's the surprising truth: it all boils down to your feelings. Yep, you heard that right. Your emotions play a crucial role in making lasting changes in your life. So, if you've ever wondered why your resolutions fizzle out, it's not because you lacked determination or effort. It's because your brain has its own tricks when it comes to embracing change, even if it's something you truly desire.

Here's the deal: your brain is wired to detect patterns. It loves to overlay past emotions onto future situations. Picture this: let's say you've had a history of feeling overwhelmed at work. Even if you switch jobs and find yourself in a calm and organized environment, chances are you'll still experience those familiar feelings of being overwhelmed. That's because your brain isn't starting each moment with a clean slate. Instead, it predicts how your future will feel based on your past experiences. If you're aiming for real transformation in 2024, you need to master your brain.

So, how can you get your brain on board with lasting change? Here are three strategies to help you out:

1. Reflect on your emotional journey in 2023

When the New Year rolls around, it's tempting to focus on the future and make grand plans for 2024. But here's a little secret: looking back at 2023 can be more helpful. We often fall for the cultural myth that simply changing the calendar will automatically lead to behavior change. But that's not how our brains work.

Your brain understands your life through emotions. Research in neuropsychology shows that unresolved emotional energy can hinder behavior change. In other words, emotional roadblocks, like feeling too insecure to take a career leap, are major reasons why we struggle to follow through on resolutions.

The solution? Take a compassionate inventory of where you emotionally struggled in 2023. Reflect on the goals you didn't achieve and identify the specific emotions that held you back. For example, if you wanted to start a new business but didn't, did anxiety make you doubt your abilities? Or perhaps fear of judgment held you back? Consider talking it through with a friend, writing about it in your journal, or seeking support from a therapist.

2. Prepare for emotional challenges in 2024

Your nervous system is wired to feel familiar emotions. So, the way you felt in 2023 can provide valuable insights into how you might feel in 2024. If you tend to give up on your goals when frustration or boredom kicks in, expect the same pattern to test you in the new year. But fear not, you can plan for it.

Let's say your goal is to become a morning person and consistently wake up at 6am every morning. To tackle the challenge of getting out of bed when it's still dark outside, have a clear plan in place. For instance, set a soothing alarm tone that gradually increases in volume to gently wake you up. Place your alarm clock or phone across the room from your bed to force yourself to physically get up to turn it off. Open your curtains or blinds before going to bed, allowing natural light to enter your room and signal your body to wake up. Additionally, have a morning routine that you genuinely enjoy, such as brewing a cup of your favorite coffee or tea, doing a quick workout, or listening to an energizing podcast. By having these strategies in place, you can counter the temptation to hit the snooze button and start your day with energy and purpose. Remember, it's not just about setting goals; it's about planning how to tackle and overcome the challenges that arise in establishing a consistent early morning routine.

3. Paint a vivid picture of your future self

One big reason why New Year's resolutions often fail is that they assume a version of you that your brain isn't familiar with yet. Let's say you want to become a morning person, but you've always been a night owl. Making a resolution to wake up at 6 a.m. every day might sound ambitious, but there are a couple of issues with that approach.

First, your brain literally doesn't know how to be a morning person—it's wired to be the current you. Research shows that thoughts about our present selves activate different areas of the brain than thoughts about our future selves. Interestingly, thoughts about our future selves are processed in the same brain region that deals with thoughts about strangers.

Second, the version of you who wakes up at 6 a.m. is fundamentally different from your current night-owl self. So, start envisioning your future self. Will being an early riser make you calmer, more organized, more productive, or more successful? How does your morning persona handle challenges differently? What topics does she discuss? What kind of clothes does she wear? What foods does she enjoy?

Remember, your brain thrives on the evidence your life provides. When you're trying to change your behavior in ways your brain isn't accustomed to, creating a clear vision of your future self becomes crucial. Research suggests that actively visualizing your future self helps create new connections in your brain and activates areas responsible for perception and performance.

By preparing for emotional challenges and painting a clear vision of your future self, you can boost your brain's ability to create and sustain new patterns for lasting change  in the upcoming year.

So, as you embark on your resolution journey, remember that it's all about understanding your brain, embracing your emotions, and unleashing the power of your mind. Cheers to a transformative 2024!


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