New Year, New Approach

By Jenna Caldwell | Web Editor

The focus on self-improvement is at an all time high come January 1st. Some want to better manage stress, get control of their debt, exercise more, eat healthier, lose weight, or get a better job/education -- I’m aiming to improve at least three of these areas in my life. Will I succeed? Probably not, seeing as it's day 21/365 and I still haven't exercised yet (does wearing work-out clothes count?) Fortunately, I'm not alone in setting the bar too high. According to University of Scranton research, the hard truth is that 92% of Americans fail at achieving their New Year's resolutions. It's simply because they are approaching the situation all-wrong from day one.

Not only are bad habits hard to break, they are nearly impossible to break when tried all at once. The brain region known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) assists humans in decision-making, handles short-term memory, regulates behavior, and helps produce thoughts and actions in agreement with internal goals. Basically, this is your mental sketch pad, and is necessary not only to plan, but to achieve your goals. So by asking the PFC to help you lose weight is asking it to do one thing too many.

After a long day at the office, a tired brain is going to have a hard time resisting the urge to eat that leftover slice of pizza. It's also going to have a hard time helping you get your butt off the couch and into the gym. Much like a muscle, if we give our PFC's too much to handle, it will eventually give out. You have to know your brain and body's limitations and set practical, attainable goals in order to be successful.

START HERE

1) Begin by nurturing your PFC. Feed it lots of healthy foods, drink more water, and get plenty of rest. This will give it the energy it needs to operate efficiently.

2) Another way to cater to your brain, which is often overlooked and hard to accomplish, is exercising regularly. This seems daunting because we naturally associate burning calories with strenuous, tiring workouts. Something so simple as walking around your neighborhood for thirty minutes a couple of days a week can provide more energy to the brain. By taking care of your PFC, you are already making headway on your goals by eating healthier, exercising, and getting more rest which, in turn, reduces stress.

3) Know your limitations. If you normally feel lethargic around 2 p.m., don't try and accomplish something difficult. Take a short break by meditating, relaxing, or napping. You will be able to come back to the task at hand feeling refreshed, and possibly more creative.

4) Start by setting one resolution at a time. By the time you have a handle on it, (maybe three months down the road) try adding on another goal. If all goes according to plan, by the end of the year, you could have majorly improved four areas of your life. It's all about baby steps, my friends.

5) Try using the SMART acronym to clearly define what it is you're trying to accomplish. Start by figuring out where your willpower and self-control is lacking. Then set Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relative, and Time-Sensitive goals.

6) Don't be so hard on yourself. Sure, February is right around the corner and you're still maintaining your "New Year, same me" lifestyle, and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe you're satisfied with yourself just the way you are. And if you're not satisfied, then I'm going to tell you something you don't already know: that tomorrow is a brand new day. Begin the process whenever you're ready.

Good luck to all in becoming the best versions of themselves this year. And even if you didn’t set a resolution just remember: there’s nothing wrong with change if it's in the right direction.