Always fail your New Year's resolutions? A neuroscientist has these 9 tips

Jessica Brown@Jessica_E_Brown
Tuesday 20 December 2016 16:00
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(Shutterstock / marekuliasz)

New Year’s resolutions don’t have a good reputation. Let’s be honest, we make them knowing they’re likely to fail; and why this is remains a mystery.

But Nicole Gravagna, who has a PhD in neuroscience and is the author of MindSET Your Manners, thinks she knows why we can’t keep to them, and has some great advice for those who want to stick to their resolutions.

She explains why wanting to lose weight might fail, as an example.

In order to lose weight, she says, you must put on tight clothes and work out in front of a room full of people – which you’re likely to avoid because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

What you really wanted in the first place, she says, is to feel comfortable:

To make significant changes in your life, you are going to have to get to the bottom of what you really mean when you say you want to get fit, spend more time with your family, or get a better job. What do those things mean to you?

Gravagna has written a guide on how to get to the bottom of what you really want, so you can set out to make changes you’re more likely to stick to:

  1. Write down or say out loud what you want to change about your life.
  2. Then, write down or say out loud what it means for you to have that part of your life changed. In the example above, ask what does fitness mean to you?
  3. Next, think about your relationship with that meaning. In the previous example, you’d think about your relationship with comfort since that was the underlying meaning of fitness.
  4. Ask yourself if you are willing to change your relationship to that underlying meaning. Are you willing to change your relationship to comfort? The answer might be no.
  5. Let yourself make arguments. When you find yourself rationalising, waving your hands, and defending your past choices, you are stepping into the kind of fertile ground that allows you to make a change. Go ahead. Keep trying to talk yourself out of it. Denial is a legitimate step in the process.
  6. Go ahead and feel the old sorrows, disappointments, and anger that will probably be attached to those arguments. You might find yourself recalling ancient pain from a school gym class incident. Let it happen. Feel it. As soon as you feel through it, that old BS can dissolve forever.
  7. This whole process can take an hour or a few weeks. Permanent change can take some time. Be patient and keep revisiting the arguments and feelings that your mind throws at you to see how they are progressing. Tell your mind 'good job’ each time it reveals a new feeling or argument. Listen to it like you listen to a child telling about a nightmare - with compassion and attention, but the awareness that the nightmare is an illusion of danger, not real danger.
  8. Periodically, repeat the first 4 steps. What do you want to change, what does that mean to you, what is your relationship with the meaning, and most importantly are you willing to change your relationship with the meaning?
  9. When your answer to are you willing to change your relationship with the meaning of this desired life change is a thoughtful and resounding yes, then you will be able to make the change permanently without a lot of the backsliding that people generally associate with big life changes.

More: 17 tips to help you keep your New Year's resolutions

More: A new year's resolution you should actually be making

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