Roughly 4,000 years ago the Babylonians were the first, as far as history tells us, to begin the annual celebration of the changing of the year. Their calendar revolved around the planting of crops, not the standard January to December we go by in modern times, but nonetheless, they were the first on record to not only celebrate the ending and beginning of the year but also to value making New Year's resolutions in the form of promises to the God’s to pay debts and return borrowed items. The culture, way back when, was to keep the promise or get on the bad side of the God’s.
What is a resolution? It is a promise, it is an intention to take action, usually to better oneself or a community. It may be, for some, a reckoning of past mistakes and a determination to be better and do better in the future. Statistics are not on the side of success though with about 45% of Americans making resolutions but only a meager 8% who keep them.
The desire to focus on positive change is a good one and is driven by our body chemistry, specifically dopamine. This wonderfully useful neurotransmitter helps us to feel pleasure. But it is important to note that this chemical messenger can help or hinder our success. For example, if you love sweets and find yourself in a bakery, just the scent of a sugary treat will trigger chemical messengers, like dopamine and when you eat them, it will increase the pleasure. This can create a bad habit. Conversely, if you exercise and desire to eat healthy, when you accomplish these goals, dopamine will be triggered, and you will feel great. So, what can we do to increase the likelihood of success in setting goals and keeping them? In other words, how can we make sure we develop good habits, not bad?
Research shows that success in good habit setting starts with a commitment to understand your own behavior. Only you know you best and so you must begin by understanding what stops you from taking action. As an example, if you want to start doing abdominal crunches while you watch your favorite show, think about what will stop you from doing this. In other words, what will you give up to do the crunches? This can be expanded to other things like going to the gym, taking a walk around the block, or buying and eating more vegetables. Perhaps you are always late to work, and so you want this to change. What do you have to give up to be on time?
Now that you have started by taking an objective view of your personal behavior, these habit setting strategies will help you reach success:
- Use the three R’s method: reminder, routine and reward. Set an alarm, put the new behavior on your calendar or some equivalent so it is on your radar. Then make it part of your regular routine and then feel the reward, as in the pleasure center of your brain giving you the feel-good moment.
- Implement the SMRT (sounds like smart) action plan:
- Specific: set a specific goal, not 3 or 10, but one. Changing behavior is hard and so trying to do too many at once will make t more difficult.
- Measurable: make sure whatever you choose is something that you can track, because that will allow you to see success.
- Reward: reaching success will trigger dopamine and this will give you the reward of feeling great.
- Trackable: this helps you maintain that chemical message to your brain which is giving you that sense of pleasure.
- Consider going public with your goal. This will help you maintain accountability because it is likely your family and friends will hold you to it. This will set you up for success because the network of people close to you will celebrate your success which will trigger dopamine production and your pleasure center.
It may sound overly simple, but success in goal setting and resolutions comes down to keeping it manageable. In other words, slow and steady will win the race to accomplishment.
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