How Your Brain Keeps New Years Resolutions

Transcript of Neuro Nugget Video:

‘Tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. Keeping a New Year’s resolution means interrupting your normal habits and exchanging them for new ones. Unfortunately, humans are terrible at doing both of these things. Ironically, though, it’s hard to change habits precisely because our brains are so good at becoming habituated. We’re hardwired to automate processes. It’s how you can find yourself at work without having to think about how you even got there. Here are a few steps to be able to ensure your brain can keep your New Year’s resolutions.

Step one, break it down. Step one is to revise our goal from something general like get in shape to something concrete that can break down into smaller, more achievable bits, like do 10 pushups a day. The way to get that motivation is to involve your brain’s reward circuits. Positive feedback is like a drug to your neurons. There’s no singular part of the brain that performs the function of reward because brains defy such simplification. But suffice it to say that a single reward can trigger multiple areas to release neurotransmitters that positively impact your brain. The more frequently the parts recur, the better, because every time you link the action to the reward, the connection gets stronger. Constant reinforcement will force you to automate faster.

Step two, build a bridge. Make space for your new goal in your existing daily routine. You already have ingrained daily habits that your brain is intent on keeping and it has no interest in changing them at all. It loves routine. It’s made up of many millions of neurons that get you through your day, firing one right after the other, propelling you through your daily grind. This is a simplification, of course, but your brain connects sets of neurons when you perform two actions one right after the other. For example, you could start doing your pushups right after you eat breakfast. Over time, this will become the way your neurons fire, AKA the new routine.

Step three, reward yourself. After you complete the new task, find some small mental reward for yourself. It may feel a little silly to consciously tell yourself that you’re proud of what you did, but it will work. The more ingrained the link between the action, doing the 10 pushups, and the reward, a sense of pride, the easier it’ll be to motivate yourself to perform the action in the first place. Like Pavlov’s dog, your brain quickly comes to anticipate a reward that always comes after a certain trigger

Step four, keep at it. On average, it takes about 66 days for people to form a new health habit, though it varies from as little as 18 to more than 120 days. This is about how long it takes for your brain to form a strong enough connection that an action becomes automatic. Again, you are not hardwired to change quickly. You are designed to keep up the same actions that have kept you alive up until now. To consciously change requires a long-term commitment to you physically rewiring your very own brain.

You may be a person who only needs a few weeks to ingrain a habit, or you may need several months, but rest assured you will get there. Again, brains love automating. Your brain is absolutely no exception. It feels daunting now, but in the grand scheme of things, two months is almost nothing at all. And once you change your habits, it will be just as hard to break the new ones as it was to form them in the first place.

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Posted on

January 11, 2023