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Approaching Goal Achievement & Making New Year's Resolutions

Approaching Goal Achievement & Making New Year's Resolutions

Another new year arrives here in Oswego, Aurora, Plainfield and Naperville (IL), and for many of us, that means a potential reset or refocus of what we want to achieve in our lives. It's a time to reflect on both what feels right for us and what we desire to change.

Kick-starting personal goals each January 1 is a time-honored practice. According to Merriam-Webster online, people have been making New Year's resolutions since the early 19th century and perhaps as far back as the late 17th century.

Making New Year's resolutions is particularly popular in the U.S. One poll for the 2023 new year indicated that 37% of Americans said they had a resolution or goal to achieve. (By comparison, similar polls in Sweden revealed that just 12% to 14% of Swedes made resolutions.) Further, 87% believed they were very or somewhat likely to stick to it.

A survey for 2024 by Forbes Health found that leading resolutions were improved fitness (48%), improved finances (38%), improved mental health (36%), lose weight (34%) and improved diet (32%).

The same Forbes Health survey also revealed the average resolution lasts under four months. Eight percent of respondents kept theirs for one month; 22% lasted two months; 22% stuck it out for three months; and 13% made it to four months.

At the back end of the year, 2% made it to 10 months, 1% made it to 11 months and 1% endured to 12 months. Only 6% made it past the current year and into the next.

The average American will struggle with the same resolution for a decade. This suggests what many of us likely already know: Each January1, the engine of our ambition is at full throttle, but once resolutions are running, they often lose their gas a little down the road.

Maintaining resolutions is hard because change is hard. At the same time, sticking to them is powerful fuel for our inner selves. Creating feelings of self-worth and -respect is actually even more important for our life satisfaction than the achievement of a goal.

As the new year arrives and continues for you, you may have some fresh resolutions for your mission of self-improvement. Here's the truth about them:

You really can make them stick.

Goal Achievement: Understanding the Brain

As the human brain has evolved, it has developed into three main parts that govern us: the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain and the neocortex.

Our reptilian brain guides our basic life functions and automatic self-preserving behaviors, such as eating, fighting, reproducing and sleeping. This part of our mental processing also distinguishes threatening from non-threatening stimuli by identifying what is familiar and what isn't.

Our mammalian brain is within our limbic system, which resides in the brain's mid-region area and includes the amygdala, thalamus, hypothalamus and hippocampus. The mammalian brain processes our emotions, memories and sensory input. It also manages our fight-or-flight response.

The neocortex – our most recently evolved brain component – is the headquarters of our creativity and rational thought. It operates our ability to reason and to express ourselves.

When these different brain areas provide us with conflicting information, they can affect our reactions to change. For example, upon perceiving a possible threat, our reptilian brain might send a flood of fear that triggers our mammalian brain. Together they might override a more-rational threat assessment by the neocortex.

By understanding how our brain's different areas function and interrelate, we can begin to understand how they can both support and meddle with change. We can avoid overwhelming our brain with our resolutions' forest views, causing procrastination, confusion and fear. Instead, we can approach them one tree at a time, liberating our neocortex while quieting our responses driven by our emotions and survival instincts.

Goal Achievement: Understanding the Brain

Giving our neocortex greater processing power in measured increments calms the other parts of the brain by making new things more familiar to them. It also makes those things more inviting for us to engage while letting us creatively plan and problem-solve.

We can achieve a resolution (i.e. a change) when we view and approach it in small, consistent steps instead of wide, racing strides toward a looming target that becomes more intimidating. This is particularly relevant within our culture's ever-increasing focus on quick acquisition of what we want without patience, struggle or ingenuity.

Our brains love establishing patterns, especially when we stitch them gradually and methodically, making change more manageable. A ready example is how we can often perform better on an exam – and retain more of what we learned – when we study in segments as opposed to cramming for the test the night before.

The following are but a few strategies you can use to close in on your resolutions with steady structure and calming discipline.

Pursue practical resolutions instead of aspirational ones. For example, rather than set a goal to end hunger in your community, plan to support local food banks and soup kitchens by donating money, time or food each month.

Develop an abundance mindset. Positivity is the pied piper of more positivity. When you shift your thoughts toward life's abundance instead of what is lacking, you nourish an inner strength that sends signals like waves from a tower. This activates universal laws of attraction and draws more of what is desirable into your life. You also reinforce your resolve with a lining that thickens as you go.

To set the foundation of the abundance mindset, you can focus on your gratitude for all you have: family, friends, a home, a pet, a hobby, food, air in your lungs. Let go of what can't be controlled, trust the journey of life and embrace the blessings that might be right in front of you. Imagine how you will feel and what your days will be like when your path delivers you to your targeted destination before directing you to a new one.

The abundance mindset also includes how you speak to yourself. Be kind, patient and encouraging within your inner narrative. Remind yourself of your brightening light, your determination and your ability to plan and pursue a goal with intelligent awareness.

The company you keep matters to an abundance mindset as well. Share your time and personal exchanges with good influences who add to your energy. We were built for relationships, and the ones we choose can shape the quality and course of our lives.

Define your goals and track your progress. Any successful resolution needs clarity. "Lose weight" is a worthy goal, but how will we get there? As just one example, perhaps we might start with "lose two pounds per month." If we remain consistent, by year's end we will have shed 24 pounds (if that's within range of what we're after). We might get there simply with light daily exercise (e.g. 15 or 20 minutes), lower carb intake and drinking more water. We don't automatically have to work out at the gym every day for an hour, a perceived task that can throw a blanket over our neocortex.

Tracking our progress can further reinforce our resolution. For our "lose weight" example, a free monitoring app such as MyFitnessPal might be useful. We can be flexible with ourselves as well. If we don't have time for a walk on a certain day, we can commit to it on another we know will have more opportunity.

Whatever our resolution might be, the primary aim is to establish habit patterns that become comfortable and routine for our resolution. This steadily changes behavior with growing confidence.

Be ready to adjust. If an approach to a resolution isn't working, the wise are willing to pivot. The brain adapts for success by learning from what stands in the way. For example, if we are trying to lose weight by eating less food, we might try introspection regarding motivation/intention for wanting weight loss. If it is related to self-worth, dig into that: Is self-worth conditional or unconditional? By limiting calories, we may only make ourselves more hungry and abandon our resolution. Rather than prod our reptilian and mammalian brains by skipping meals, we could focus on eating foods that resonate with our whole bodies, foods that nurture and sustain us, or perhaps those that simply taste amazing. Trusting in our discernment is key!

Reach out for support when you need it. The brain is a complex and powerful tool. As well as it is designed for goal achievement, it can also send us signals that it needs some attention under the hood. Self-improvement includes self-awareness. If you find yourself struggling at points along your personal path, it's okay. Sometimes you just need to step off and seek support where you know you will be safe and heard with compassion, wisdom and knowledge.

Making New Year's Resolutions & Beyond: With You Each Step of the Way

The ability to decide on and commit to change lies at the heart of new resolutions. Empowered Life Therapy offers Oswego, Aurora, Plainfield and Naperville (IL) resources for support and positive change through the individually centered therapeutic process. To find out more about how we can contribute to your healing, growth and self-improvement, contact us today at (630) 842-6585!

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