Do you remember that feeling at the beginning of a new school year starting with brand new school supplies? That sense of freshness and new beginnings as you open up the first page of an untouched notebook and hold a new sharp pointed pencil poised to make the first mark? Usually, the first few pages of my notebook would have my best neatest writing, which then deteriorated as the time went on. My desire to do my best, reaching for higher standards of excellence dwindled as the day to day routines of daily living took me back to standards of mediocrity and just getting by.
The beginning of a new year is often the time when we reflect on the year that has passed and see things that we would like to change and do differently. A new year represents a new start, a new chapter and a clean unwritten page in life. There is a desire to live better, reach new goals, and make a fresh start. We make New Year Resolutions and promise ourselves that this year we will do them. We summon up our willpower and determination and step into the New Year with the greatest and sincerest of intentions.
So why do most New Year Resolutions fail?
New Year Resolutions have become almost the joke of this season. It is well recognised that those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions often fail as quickly as they are made. One common resolution is the goal to lose weight by eating sensibly and exercise. It is the busiest time of year for Fitness Centers, but statistics have shown that new memberships are rarely kept up more than month or two. One thing that New Year resolutions do show is that good intentions are not sufficient to make permanent changes in our lives.
We are motivated by pleasure in life rather than pain. Many resolutions involve some kind of deprivation of pleasure whether it be eating, or stopping a bad habit. We know that although we enjoy our bad habits, their consequences are ultimately not beneficial for either our health or life. The desire for instant gratification for short-term pleasure is far stronger than any mental logical sense of reason in most cases. We know in our head what we should do, but doing it when it opposes our immediate desires is tough.
Our mind is composed of two parts; the conscious and subconscious mind. Brain activity takes place through neurons. In one second of time the conscious mind uses two thousand neurons, and in that same second the subconscious mind uses four billion neurons. This means that every second there are two thousand neurons making conscious decisions and four billion neurons making subconscious decisions. Which part of your mind has the greatest control do you think?
The subconscious mind is trained by the constant repetition of the beliefs, values and lifestyle that you have taken and lived from an early age. It automatically follows the familiar and well-trodden path of well-ingrained thoughts, beliefs and behaviours. The subconscious operates from such a well-established history that it responds automatically with learned responses and behaviour. This is why it is so difficult to create new habits of thoughts and behaviours, the subconscious mind will always try to revert to an old familiar way of doing things because they have become so automatic. The conscious mind has a hard job to make permanent changes because of the power of those four billion neurons. It can be achieved, but it takes hard work by the conscious mind to retrain our subconscious mind.
It is said that you need to do something at least 30 times to create a new habit. For changes in lifelong learnt behaviours, it can take far more than that. For example, have you ever got in the car and driven to your destination, and not really remember the journey there. You have been driving using the learned behaviours of your subconscious mind, and your conscious mind has been thinking about something else. However, if you were to drive in a different country whose custom is to drive on the other side of the road your conscious mind would be working very hard to correct the learned and instinctive behaviour of your subconscious mind. In fact, the whole experience of driving on the other side of the road feels wrong and uncomfortable, and if you lose your concentration you could find yourself automatically going back to familiar patterns and become a road hazard!
Here are 7 top tips for working on those New Year’s Resolutions:
1. Don’t expect instant results – it’s a process
2. Plan small attainable steps to your desired goal and write them down
3. Celebrate each successful step towards your goal and work on it until it feels automatic before progressing to the next
4. Don’t give up when you experience relapses and setbacks
5. Review your new steps and goals several times daily
6. Visualise what reaching your goal will look and feel like, imagine you have achieved it right now
7. Find people who will support and encourage you on the way