Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Secret to Successful New Year's Resolutions

At the beginning of the new year, millions of people will make New Year's resolutions. And, as everyone knows, down the road a few months most of these people will have given up on their plan.

I know why.

It's because what they're trying to do is replace an old, troubling behavior pattern with a new, beneficial one. Which is a good thing.

Would you like to be the exception? You need to know what's involved when you try to do that. First of all, you need to know that the old pattern is physically hard-wired in your brain. In other words, you'll never get rid of it. To "break a habit," you need to hard-wire a new pattern. And if it's more beneficial than the old one, you'll use it more often instead.

The trick is hard-wiring the new behavior pattern.

How do you do that? You do it the same way you hardwired the old one. You repeat the new pattern enough times so that it becomes ingrained.

Let me explain. When you perform a behavior more than once, your brain naturally tries to make this an automatic pattern. Because if you had to concentrate and try hard to do everything in your life, you wouldn't get anything done. You'd be exhausted by 9:30 AM.

So with each repetition, brain chemicals stimulate your brain cells to grow filaments that reach and connect to each other. The more you repeat the behavior, the more the filaments grow. Finally, when all the brain cells involved in the behavior are connected and covered by an insulator called myelin, you have an efficient new circuit in your brain that triggers the desired behavior automatically. At this point, you have your new behavior pattern. You've achieved your New Year's resolution!

How long does this take? Well, that's the catch. It will take dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds of repetitions, depending on how complex the behavior is. It's biology - how the brain works - and you can't get around it.

Plus, when you get frustrated, you'll have the old habit to fall back on.

This means....LISTEN UP, THIS IS IMPORTANT...this means that you WILL FAIL most of the time during the early going. This happens to everybody. Failure is a NATURAL part of learning a new pattern. You know you're supposed to do X, but you do Y instead - your old bad habit. Yes, it's discouraging to fail like that. But if you try hard and get it right 10% of the time early on, that's good progress. Keep trying, and after a while you'll push it to a 20% success rate. Persevere, and you'll get it up to 50%. Way down the road, you'll reach 95%.

The only way you can make it happen any faster is to be committed and try harder and do it more often. But you still have to get the repetitions in. No way around it. It's a physical thing that has to happen in your brain, and you can't rush it. I wouldn't kid you about something like this.

So, if you want to keep your New Year's resolution...

1. Expect lots of failure and discouragement.

2. Don't give up. Keep trying.

3. Pay attention to your success rate, and be encouraged by your small gains.

4. Be patient. It will take time.

As I said, most people give up when discouraged by failure. They don't realize that it comes with the territory, and that you have to persist through it.

So if your New Year's resolution really means something to you, remember what I said about what has to happen in the brain. Keep trying, get the repetitions in, and give yourself credit for slow progress. Way down the road, you'll have your newly hardwired, beneficial behavior pattern, and you'll be able to do what you resolved to do - automatically.

By the way, I made a brief video about this topic, if you're interested.

Also, I've preached this sermon before: Breaking a Bad Habit.

Good luck with your New Year's resolutions!

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2013. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That was a very lovely post :)