Wiring to Keep Resolutions and Goals in the New Year
Happy New Year!
The new year is a time many take for setting new goals and intentions, or what we call resolutions. Around 70% of those who've set their goals and made plans abandon them in less than two months. Do you ever wonder why this happens, and how we can be more successful at obtaining our goals?
While there are many factors that are involved, we can take a look at how our brain works, specifically a potent little monoamine called dopamine. First, let's dissect the creation of a resolution, then we'll talk about how dopamine comes into play.
Resolutions made on New Year's often have a grandiose element and ones that frequently affected by media or outside influences. Losing weight through diet or exercise with visions to look like a social media or television personality, or increasing muscle mass probably match about 90% of resolution seeking individuals goals. There is nothing wrong with losing weight or gaining muscle mass to be more healthy and fit. However, setting a goal to look like anyone else besides yourself can predispose you to failure. We all have different body structures and access to resources. This must be taken into account, but often is not.
Let's continue. Say Jane and Jim have the goal of losing 50 pounds each by March working out 5 days a week and restricting their calories to 1,200 per day. Important to add that they have sedentary jobs and haven't exercised in the last six months. Their goal is set and then they proceed to make a plan. The first few weeks of the month they engage in a new routine, possible at a new gym or new environment. They change their diets to meet their goal.
Now let's talk about how dopamine comes into play. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, creating the feeling of 'I did it!" or 'I got this, and I'm keeping it going'. It plays a role in attention, mood, memory, motivation, learning, focus and sleep. The dopamine rush is addicting! Sounds great thus far, right? Dopamine is made and secreted in response to love (touch), music, exercise and learning new things.
Here's the rub: the dopamine rush wears off quickly and the subsequent behavior is to seek more. Initially, this keeps us in new routines. But it doesn't last long. When Jane and Jim initially set their goals they received a dopamine reward from joining a gym through risk taking (to a small extent). Once they start exercising and learning a new routine they receive another dopamine rush. They are motivated to continue doing the work out. But at some point the rush wears off. Focus decreases, followed by motivation.
What's the take home message? As with all my articles, the goal is moderation and balance. The aim is not to produce dopamine rushes but moderate consistent amounts that sustain our dopamine levels (as opposed to the rush).
How do we do this? Set moderate goals and slowly work to increase them. In this way, dopamine production stays consistent which achieves all the wonderful affects of this neurotransmitter.
Most importantly working on loving ourselves and setting goals based on ourselves, not on others. Each day is a chance to begin a new or just to exist. No one ever said we have to declare changes for the New Year.
I wish you a wonderful New Year full of warmth, love and consistency.