It's about that time of the year again. It's that time between Christmas and New Year's and some of you may be thinking about the fresh start you'll make in 2011. It's a new year full of new hopes, new dreams, and new horizons. Many of you may have been thinking about your new year's resolutions. Some of you, myself included, may have become pessimistic or discouraged at the thought that they never last, so why even make them. You have good intentions for a couple of weeks but then life gets in the way and away go the resolutions. I want you to try something different this year. I have a newfound understanding of how your brain is wired and how to use it more effectively. In this post I will explain how your mind processes goals and information and how to turbo charge it for success.
First I want to talk about the conscious and subconscious mind. My life coach used the analogy of a game of tug of war. She said that our subconscious mind is so strong that it's like having 9 people pulling for it on one side versus the conscious mind which has 1 person on it. Which side is likely to win that one? Our subconscious mind is composed of our habits and things we do without putting conscious thought or effort to. It's things like driving, eating, breathing, and talking. They are patterns that our body has memorized and have become so ingrained in us that it becomes an automatic response that we don't consciously need to think about. When eating a bowl of soup, we don't, for example, tell our hand to move towards our spoon, move our fingers around to grip the shaft of the spoon, dip spoon into the soup bowl, pull it out, blow on it, insert in mouth, etc. You get my point. Gosh, even I didn't notice how many steps there were in having soup until I wrote this. Our bodies do most things automatically. Once we learn something, our body just goes. This is one of the reasons why it's so important to establish good habits because most of the time we don't even realize what we're doing.
How does this relate to keeping resolutions? When we set new resolutions or goals, we're essentially asking our brains and bodies to shift from a reactionary mode of dealing with life, to a proactive and focused one. We're asking ourselves to make a change, and change can be challenging. Most people will rely on willpower or that 10% of their conscious mind to achieve their goals. The problem with willpower is that it is easily exhausted and overloaded. At first when we set a resolution, we're focused on it and it may work for a little while. But then when the part of your brain in charge of decision-making, your conscious mind, becomes stressed by life events, it's likely to give in to an emotional desire for instant gratification overrun by your subconscious mind.
So how can we use the 10% conscious strength we have to make friends with the 90% subconscious strength, and also to leverage its brute power?
1. Make a plan.
Don't just set a goal but have a plan or road map for making it happen. What should be in your plan? Okay, I'm assuming you already have written goals. Let me backtrack and talk about how to set SMART goals. S is for specific, M is for measurable, A is for attainable, R is for realistic, T is for time sensitive. Make sure you have a smart goal. For example, if you're in insurance sales and you want to win the trip to Hawaii at the end of the year, define your target. Let's say you need to have sold 192 auto policies by the end of the year. Break it down. That's 16 policies a month or 4 policies a week. That's almost 1 policy a day. Now you have a standard of measuring and tracking your goal and you have a specific goal. Is it attainable? How do you feel about the goal? Is it high enough that it's a stretch and has you motivated but not too high that you won't even try. Is it too low that you're not motivated and you need to adjust up? Gauge yourself and make adjustments to your goals as necessary. Is it realistic? Do you believe you can do it? Do you have the skills and resources you need to hit your goals? If not, what steps are you going to take to get the skills and resources you'll need? And time, yes we put a timeline on our goal. Now, create a strategy for how you will hit your target. What's important about this and how it engages your subconscious mind is that it makes the goal manageable and easy. When you break big goals down into small bite sized pieces, you're less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to be able to continue with one foot in front of the other to follow the path you have already carved out for yourself.
2. Focus on the emotional rewards.
So with the research I've done on brain science, I've discovered that our emotions are processed in our limbic system or reptilian brain. This part of our brain is where positive and negative emotions are generated. It is where memory begins and is the seat of our emotions. This is the part of your brain that is concerned with self-preservation associated with physical pleasure. I say it's associated with physical pleasure because every time this area of our brain expects to get its way, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is the brain's reward system, increases. It alternatively decreases when a reward is withheld. Dopamine makes us feel good. In fact when we eat chocolate, dopamine is released in our brain. This is how our unconscious mind works that we run on 90% of the time. It moves us towards pleasure and away from pain. To unleash its power, we must piggyback off its juice. Since it's fueled by emotions, we need to find ways to link our goals with our emotions. So, let's take one of my goals for example. I want 5 new coaching clients with whom I have a great connection with by the end of January 2011. What's the positive emotion I would feel if I reached my goal? First of all if I had 5 new clients with whom I felt a good connection to, I would feel elated! I love creating a safe space for my clients to explore their deepest desires and harness the power of who they can be. I love drawing out of my clients what's going on for them, pulling apart different pieces of their life, and exploring each piece, buffing it up until it shines with brilliance, and putting the pieces back together again. I love being witness to the unleashing of the greatness within my clients unfolding before me. When I have a client willing to explore the depths of their persona with me, it's pure joy! How I value connecting with others on a deeper and more meaningful level to improve the quality of their life! I am ALL about that! Just talking about it makes me want to ask strangers if they're willing to explore the depths of their soul with me to find out what makes them tick and what will make them better. What are the emotional reasons both positive and negative that you can link with your goal to fuel it?
3. Look at your goals daily.
Your limbic system/unconscious mind responds to visual cues. The act of just looking at your goals every day programs your brain to look for solutions for your to realize your goals. From a biological standpoint, every time you look at your written goals or of a picture of your goals, a brain cell or neuron fires a signal to another neuron creating a path of memory in your brain. With each visual of your goal you expose yourself to, this path is strengthened. To get a visual for this, imagine each thought you have as a piece of thread weaved into your mind. Each time you think of that thought or review a goal, a second, third, and so on string is created on that path. After 30 days of the same thought, a path made up of 30 strings has been formed for that goal. It's become a very strong thought or memory; Not one easily erased. You have now programmed a thought or goal into your subconscious mind which means that your mind will be on automatic pilot looking for ways to make it happen without you even trying. What's important about this is that you won't have to rely solely on your willpower to achieve your goals. You are now using your brain more efficiently to get what you want.
4. Identify potential obstacles and how to overcome them.
Identify all the potential obstacles to your goal and decide ahead of time how you're going to overcome them. What strengths do you bring to the table that will help you overcome? Let me give you an example in my life. Last week one of my to-dos was to update my coaching log. My coaching log is where I log in my coaching hours to keep up my certifications. Sometimes I don't log hours in right away so I had to pull client files to get the dates and times of coaching to log in. This task seemed so tedious that it had been going to the bottom of my list for 2 weeks straight. When I confronted myself to find out what the issue was, I admitted that it seemed mindless and boring. All of sudden a video game popped into my mind. I think my subconscious mind reminded me of the game Tron. I suddenly imagined myself to be at level 6 on one of my favorite all-time arcade games, Street Fighter. I liked playing the character of Chun-li who had this incredible lightning kick. Anyway, I viewed this coaching log as another contender in the game and I had just advanced to the next level. I had to discover my opponent's weaknesses so that I could win at this round. Well, being competitive in nature, I wasn't going to let this challenger overpower me. I was smarter, quicker, and more agile. When I saw my coaching log as my contender, I whipped that puppy out and it got done in no time. What obstacles are going to get in your way and how are you going to overcome them? Do you know what motivates you through those challenging times? If not, find a way to find out or hire a coach to support you in figuring those things out.
5. What's your big "WHY?"
What is important about achieving this goal? Let me give you another personal example. Why do I want to build up my coaching business? It uses my natural God-given talents and gifts. It's my life purpose. I love it, enjoy it, and it comes naturally and easily to me. I'm a very curious person and I love exploring and discovering. Coaching allows me to be myself. It's easy and fun. At the same token, I'm supporting someone in improving the quality of their life. I love making meaningful contributions to other people's lives. I love encouraging progress and seeing improvement. It feels great! This point also ties nicely with the emotional reward section. Make sure that this a goal that you truly want and not one you think you should have. There's a saying that many people reach the top of the ladder only to find that it's leaning against the wrong wall. Make sure you're climbing up wall that you desire to climb.
Keeping your new year's resolutions requires pre-mediated thinking. It requires having a plan with emotionally charged rewards along the way. It's not a sprint but rather a marathon. You're in this for the long haul. What would it mean to you if you hit your goals year after year? You've got to pace yourself. Running a marathon takes a plan. You can't decide to run one tomorrow if you haven't prepared. Get yourself the support you need to make 2011 the best year of your life.
Do you even know what you want? What will you do to get ahead? What's your next move?