How to Train Your Brain to Keep New Year’s Resolutions

February. The Kryptonite to our New Year’s Resolutions. 

As January progresses on it’s a good time to bolster your mental fortitude in order to keep the personal changes you made as New Year’s resolutions alive.  
The trouble with resolutions is that they are surface behavioral changes. They’re like rubbing Tiger Balm on an aching muscle. Resolutions often don’t alter the underlying thought patterns that determine our decisions and produce our actions. It’s easy for anyone to change their attitude or behavior for a short period of time, the challenge comes in sustaining that practice.
The error that most of us make is that we put all of our focus only on the resolutions we set. That may sound weird, but what about looking at every other area of your life that is directly influencing that resolution?

Our Environment Will Make or Break Our New Year’s Resolutions

Changing our old ways (and sticking to your New Year’s resolutions) means eliminating things that are going to remind our brain of how we used to be. If we are in the same environments as before, then what we see, hear and experience on a daily basis will consciously and subconsciously trigger thoughts and feelings of the past.
The trouble is those thoughts and feelings are exactly what led to the negative behavior we’re trying to change. So if we stay in these environments long enough, our willpower will eventually tap out and we will naturally go back to our old ways.
Dr. Joe Dispenza wrote a great piece on the effect our environment has on our New Year’s resolutions here.
As he says, “Everything we see, hear, taste, touch and smell is an environment. The music on your phone, the interior of your car, your social, and business networks, each room of your house, the places you visit, every person in your life.”
Although we want to make changes in our lives, in reality we’re not going to be able to dramatically alter every single environment we’re in. But we can do our best to limit those external triggers from igniting those memories and pulling us back into our old way of thinking.
Here are 7 changes you can make that will keep your New Year’s resolutions on track. They may seem small on the outside, but they have a big impact inside your brain and nervous system:

  1. Avoid brain fatigue:

Get sleep and manage your energy. When we’re tired it’s harder for us to regulate our emotions. This makes us more prone to getting down on ourselves. It also makes it hard for us to maintain willpower and a positive outlook when tempted by external pressures. So make sleep and rest your number one priority, as it will be a deciding factor in your decision making.

  1. Change your morning routine:

Not long ago, I went through some health challenges which caused me to wake up every morning feeling like absolute crap. You know when you have the flu and try to get out of bed in the morning? It felt like that and went on for over a year.
The interesting thing I found was that when I finally got better, I was often waking up in a bad mood. I wasn’t my normal, motivated self. I realized through that year I’d literally trained my brain to wake up expecting to feel bad.
In order to re-train my brain to feel good, I had to do something that would immediately shift my focus and emotional state upon rising. So, I began doing cardio for 20-30 minutes every morning, using exercise as a way to release those feel good brain chemicals: endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin.
Quite quickly I noticed that I was waking up with my usual, positive outlook on life and eventually didn’t need exercise to create it anymore.
Your brain recognizes the routines and rhythms of your lifestyle. So try to shake it up by starting your day off with exercise.
For more on this, read my article in Entrepreneur magazine on the science behind creating an effective morning routine. I use these strategies with my clients to create immediate and lasting change in their lives. 

  1. Shake up your route to work:

Find ways to change everything that happens before work. Is there a different route you can take to the office? Can you leave earlier or later? Can you switch up your mode of transportation? Can you head in early to read or work on other side projects?

  1. Rearrange your place:

Look at ways you can change the interior of your house, apartment, or bedroom. Can you rearrange furniture? Put up different pictures or new art? Is it time to paint? Sometimes what we see can instantly trigger an emotional reaction even if we don’t necessarily notice it. Freshen things up and see if it either eliminates negative feelings or ignites positive ones.

  1. Load new music on your phone:

Change up your tunes to shift your mental focus in the morning, in the car or at the gym. Are there any podcasts you can start listening too? I heard ManTalks has a pretty good podcast 😉

  1. Surround yourself with new people:

One of the toughest obstacles to creating personal change is the people around you. Most find it hard to announce to their friends that they are making changes in their lives. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to end friendships in order to stick to your resolutions. But you can begin to surround yourself with people who are doing more of what you want to be doing. Who inspires you? Who do you admire? Who do you respect?

  1. Find an accountability partner:

If you want produce the behavior you most desire, find someone to keep you in line. Share your goals and meet regularly to check up on each other. Accountability is why Uber and Airbnb work so well. Nothing will help you keep your New Year’s resolutions as well as an accountability partner.
They force us to not get complacent and slip back into our old ways. Over time this creates a brand new habit that holds itself accountable.
[For more on Graham’s disruptive performance coaching listen to him on the ManTalks podcast. And to learn about the principle of Deep Work, listen to Cal Newport on the podcast.
Graham Young
Graham Young is the founder of Disruptive Performance Coaching and contributor to TIME, Fast Company, Entrepreneur magazine and Business Insider. He creates human performance programs for business professionals and organizations that optimize the brain’s ability to minimize fatigue, elevate productivity and unleash confidence.
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