Debbie Jacob writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
Happy New Year! It’s a clean slate, so to speak: a brand, new opportunity for everyone to make important changes in their lives. If you don’t know where to start, try making a list of New year’s resolutions. I have always been fond of those lists, and I’ve learned over the years if you make one or two important resolutions, and you’re determined to meet those challenges, that list can provide a sense of accomplishment.
If you’ve never made a list or you’ve made lists and haven’t felt successful, let me give you a little advice about creating a successful New Year’s list.
1. Consider a behaviour you really want to change. This year, I am going to tackle my penchant for introducing fear into any decision I make. No matter what I decide to do, I must always introduce some element of fear and anxiety into it. Then I’m faced with trying to overcome that fear. I’m going to change that behaviour this year. I am confident I can do so. Of course this is easier said than done unless you follow step two.
2. Read a good book about brain cognition. Learning how the brain operates is a fascinating and useful skill that you can develop. You can’t change a behaviour unless you understand the brain’s intricate neurological circuitry. Just saying you want to change something, which is the “stuff” that New Year’s lists are made of, is not enough. Good intentions alone will only lead to bad feelings when you can’t accomplish the lofty goals that you have set for yourself. Instead, you must be able to create new pathways so you can bypass those old, self-defeating ways. I suggest reading Habits of a Happy Brain: Retrain Your Brain to Boost Your Serotonin, Dopamine, Oxytocin, & Endorphin Levels by Loretta Graziano Breuning. It’s a book that explains how to deal with the brain’s plasticity in order to change a behaviour.
3. Spend some time thinking about where an old behaviour originated and more importantly, why it originated. You might not be able to exactly pinpoint the origins of a behaviour, but understanding the history of that behaviour does help in any quest to change it. Understanding the past always helps in dealing with the present and planning the future. More than likely, the behaviour you want to change is rooted deep in your past. It is complex. You might not be able to decipher the entire issue, but it will help to have some understanding about how that behaviour became entrenched in your life.
4. Don’t give up. Neurological studies now show that if you try to change a behaviour and stick to making those changes for 45 days, you can achieve results. Of course your brain will want to follow the path of least resistance. It will want to follow the the tried – but not true—well-worn neurological pathways. You have to consciously remind yourself to stick to your goals during the tough times.
5. Find support for your quest. One of the main problems with New Year’s resolutions is that they often exist on a secret list somewhere. It’s important to find a support system. Identify friends or family members who can invest time and effort in helping you to achieve your goals.
6. Make your resolution measurable. A New York Times article by Jen A Miller entitled “How to Make (and Keep) a New Year’s Resolution” says over half of New Year’s resolutions fail because of three reasons: They are too vague, they involve no real plan for change, and they don’t come from the heart. Don’t make resolutions because you think they’re the right thing to do. Make them because you honestly want to make these changes in your life.
7. Make SMART goals. In her article, Miller says to create specific, measurable goals that are achievable, relevant and time-bound. In other words SMART. She says you can’t say I want to lose weight. Come up with a measurable, reasonable, achievable goal. I want to lose 36 pounds over 12 months. That is doable. Make it relevant by deciding why you want to achieve this goal. “If you do it out of the sense of self-hate or remorse or a strong passion in the moment, it doesn’t last long,” says Miller.
So, New Year’s resolutions lists can be fashioned to make real changes in the upcoming year. You just need to have a serious plan to achieve those goals.