New Year Resolutions? Ante up but no bluffing.

photoHappy 2013. With the world predicted to end on 101 different days in the past five years, I’d say a little optimism is in order that we survived. Celebrate what a great year you just had or say goodbye to a bad one and hit the reset button. You don’t need to wait for a new year to start improving yourself but no matter what you do, just keep this in mind:

make realistic goals

All those resolutions are worth half a bag of peanuts if you don’t put forth some genuine effort. It all comes down to self-awareness and willpower. If you’re not willing to make investments in order to be happier then stop reading right here cuz you’re wasting your time. Otherwise, I recommend you check out this 2009 article in The Wall Street Journal that explains why roughly 88 percent of resolutions end up on the back burner year to year. If you’re too lazy to read the whole thing (how ironic), I’ll break it down for you and give you some of my own pearls.

Part 1: Awareness

photo1Awareness is something that everyone has on one level or another. It says why some are great at driving, noticing others’ moods, or picking up a corner blitz on third down. A lack thereof, however, also explains why some people at the market seem like they’re aiming for you with their shopping carts.

Ultimately, a lot of it comes down to mental processing. Genetic makeup may determine how well we see, hear, or smell certain things but a great deal of it has to do with interpretation of those stimuli. There are tens of thousands of bits of information that we absorb on a daily basis but only a handful that grabs our conscious attention.

So if you want to work on fixing a bad habit or start a new project you have to concentrate on your every thought and action. You can say “I need to eat less to lose weight” or “I can finish a marathon if I just run an hour a day for a few months” but you won’t fully accomplish your goal. You need to educate yourself and gather information before you can start the process. Learn about the proper steps. Try to pinpoint what you’re doing wrong. A lot of times, it helps having a friend giving you their observations of what you’re doing. Once you’ve identified your flaws or learned about your new project of interest, you can begin formulating a plan.

Part 2: Willpower

You’ve got a plan now.  Awesome.  That’s half the battle, right?  What’s the other half?  Execution.  I’m talking about mental focus and energy to push you over the edge so you won’t relapse on that diet or promise to quit smoking.

Mental energy is finite and determines how many tasks we can simultaneously execute as well as to what extent.  Ever get that feel of burnout after you’ve been studying or working twelve hours straight?  You can’t focus on anything afterward and just want to head home for shut down.  Stop by the gym on the way home?  HA!  Good luck.

Willpower is dependent on two things: physical health and mental capacity.  Physical health relies on the obvious factors of diet, exercise, and to a certain extent, genetics.  It’ll affect your level of focus and self-awareness (ahem, see section above).  Your brain needs nutrients and energy just like the rest of your body.

Now, mental capacity is something many think is strictly inherent and immalleable.  I beg to differ along with a bunch of nerdy, white coat scientists in the WSJ article that I mentioned.  Let’s say your goal is to memorize a five page, Nobel Prize acceptance speech for inventing a pillow that stays cool on both sides during the summer (When, God, WHEN will this be invented???).  Do you read through the whole thing once, start to finish?  No, Mr. Good Will Hunting.  You divide it up into sections because the mind can only process and hold so many pieces of information at once.

Willpower2

So is what you need to do in order to accomplish major goals that you set out for yourself.  Your brain (and thus your willpower) is similar to a muscle in that it needs exercise in order to build up endurance to maintain focus on difficult and sustained tasks.  As such, one of the reasons that so many New Year resolutions fail is that people try to do everything at once or skip straight to the end.  The key is to take baby steps and gradually lengthen your stride until you hit that finish line.

And, oh yeah.  Avoid distractions. Eliminate temptations.  If your goal is to drop weight, then toss out your junk food and don’t drive past that In-N-Out Burger.  If your goal is to spend more time with your kid, then don’t bring your work laptop with you to the playground.  Depending on what your objective is, a few rewards or exceptions can be made but not if it’s something like smoking a cigar when you’re trying to quit cigarettes.

But if you are up for a stogie, give me a call….just kidding, that was a test.

Did you pass?  Why’s my phone ringing?

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