Grow within yourself, for yourself and by yourself
2019-02-18 | By Katarina Gaborova
Have you been to a gym at the beginning of January? It’s busy and crowded with people talking about their new training programme as a part of their New Year’s resolutions. Go back to that same gym towards the end of December and you’ll discover that it’s somewhat empty.
What happens in between?
And how is it that, according to Richard Wiseman, professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at Hertfordshire University, only twelve percent of us are able to stick to goals? In Wiseman’s research, the remaining eighty-eight percent of a sample of 3000 people did not achieve what they planned, despite over half being very confident of succeeding. Starting anything new and keeping it up requires two crucial skills; a precise strategy–what, how, and a specific timeline–to execute the intended plan, and willpower.
We’ve all started a new year with the intention of a healthier lifestyle, to smoke less, or to finally unpack that last moving box. But something happens and we fall back onto the old familiar paths.
Can we increase the success rate of our personal goals?
Human beings are creatures of habit. Forty percent of our everyday lives are run by habits and automatic brain processes. Starting anything ‘out of the ordinary’ requires interrupting these old patterns and exchanging them for new. We are great at coming up with ideas, butkeeping and accomplishing them is a challenge. Physiologically it literally costs us more energy.
Rather than wait until the new year to create a better self, we can use science to improve at any time.
Today is the best day to start
- Divide a sheet of paper into three columns. The first one is your ‘actual self ’ (how you see yourself currently). The second is your ‘ought self ’ (a representation of how others or how you judge how you ought to be), the third is your ‘ideal self ’ (how you wish ideally to be).
- This ‘Self-discrepancy theory,’ that people are motivated to reduce the gap between these different internalized parts of self, motivates our ‘ideal self ’ towards the desired change.
- Focus on one goal at a time. Physiologically, the pre-frontal cortex of our brain, situated behind the forehead, has been linked to willpower. Focusing on too many changes at once constrains this area, affecting decision making, regulation of emotions, and creative thinking, all important for motivation. If we are overwhelmed, change is less likely as willpower gets blocked, which is the foremost reason for not maintaining goals, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.
- Utilise a specific, achievable strategy within a designated timetable. For example, schedule an exercise plan for 45-60 minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Detailed dates, time, duration and intensity, mean we are more likely to stick to plans.
- Practise goals regularly, to turn the new activity into a habit. Practice improves whatever we are doing. Any routine behaviour, like driving a car, gets embedded in the unconscious area of our brain, the basal ganglia, responsible for habits, routines, and automatic responses. For change, we need our conscious thinking area, the pre-frontal cortex, to override unconscious activity. By focusing on the new tasks and practising them they’ll become automatised.
- Visualise achieving the goal and apply visual, auditory, or tactile details. If your goal is to improve your public speaking, see yourself giving a speech in front of a large audience and delivering the speech competently, hear the audience clapping and feel the pride on finishing. We get stuck in the old ways, and our brain views change as a ‘threat,’ causing a rise in a stress hormone, cortisol. Blood gets drawn away from the prefrontal cortex, further affecting our willpower. Visualisation serves as practice and the more we practice the more comfortable we feel.
- Get support from family and friends. By telling others what we want to change, we are more likely to stand behind our word and their support motivates during tough times.
Remember the time for resolutions is now and every day!
About the Author
Katarina Gaborova is a founder of K.G.Psychological Services psychologistinthehague.com in The Hague, where she works as a psychologist and coach and a member of the ACCESS Counselling Service Network (CSN). She is a TED speaker and a published author of V!VA Tools for Well-being, which was reviewed on the ACCESS website access-nl.org/features/viva-tools-for-well-being.