The New Year is a fresh start, a chance to grow, an opportunity to start over and work towards a goal. Unfortunately, though, those goals are abandoned by February and the fresh start we all waited for comes and goes as our old habits kick in and our subconscious goes into overdrive.
It’s good to dream, it’s good to want more for yourself, and it’s certainly good to set goals. Self-improvement is self-care. But the harsh reality is that unless you are setting your goals in a measurable way, and working towards them consistently, it may be better to not set any goals at all.
A better thing to do may be to practice gratitude and come to enjoy where you are, which is also a form of self care and self-love. When we fall short of our goals it can be very discouraging and cause us to engage in negative self-talk, which is detrimental to our mental health and prevents growth and transformation.
To avoid this cycle, it’s helpful to understand why there is a difference between what we expect to happen and what actually happens when we set New Year’s resolutions.
What we expect to happen: lose weight.
What actually happens: loss of motivation after realizing how much work it takes.
What we expect to happen: save money.
What actually happens: inability to turn down dinner with friends and morning lattes.
What we expect to happen: wake up at 6 a.m. every day.
What actually happens: snooze until 7:30.
Why are we unable to stick to goals like this? There are a couple of reasons.
We have not reflected on the previous year.
“How to Conduct A Self Care Year in Review” is a great starting point for reflection on the previous year before setting goals for the new one. Without reflecting in some way, you won’t know what helped you grow and what caused your stagnancy. It is so important to reflect and review your behaviors and your lifestyle before you try to adjust it so that you already know what works for you and what doesn’t. Reflection is a necessary step for transformation.
We are not setting goals the SMART way.
We wish goal-setting was as easy as saying “I will save money” but this goal will not get you anywhere without a plan. In order to see a goal through it needs to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely. It needs to be a SMART goal. Be specific about how to save money and how much money you want to save, use tools to help, and track your progress. Be realistic though. Start with small goals, and when you know how much you are capable of, push yourself even further. That way, you don’t get discouraged because you don’t meet impossible goals.
We are scientifically engineered to choose the easy way out.
Old habits die hard. Very, ridiculously, hard. That’s because when the brain gets certain stimuli, such as a message from the belly saying “feed me,” there is already an ingrained response, “let’s eat,” that is constantly reinforced. The response takes a pathway, one that our brain paved long ago, every time we respond to this message. So, something called myelin sheath is created around our nerve cells to make the pathway faster and easier for the response. When responses like this are suddenly challenged by a different response, like, “no, let’s stick to our diet,” the brain has to make a brand new pathway, which the brain doesn’t want to do.
The brain likes to be the boss. The brain likes to stick to old patterns and old habits because they are more efficient than new patterns and new habits so it will automatically default to wanting to take the old pathway every single time. But new pathways CAN be created, they can be reinforced, and eventually, they can be the default for the brain. But they take time. Be patient and know that at the beginning you will need to work very hard to be the boss of your brain, but it will learn to listen to you as long as you are stern and persistent about always taking the new pathway, even when every other neuron is telling you to take the easy way out. This is the only way you will build new and healthier habits that you can stick to.
You can restructure your brain if you try hard enough, but consistency is non-negotiable. You cannot reach goals and break bad habits unless you are consistent from the very beginning. They say it takes 21 days to build a new habit. If you fail once, you start over.
I hope you feel empowered now to make the most of the New Year. Set goals the SMART way and show your brain who is the boss. An extra dose of gratitude and compassion goes a long way too. Happy New Year.