Achieving Goals: Applying Positive Neuroplasticity to Your New Year’s Resolutions

At the start of the New Year, a large percentage of the population will have set their New Year’s resolutions.  But how many of our New Year’s Resolutions do we actually achieve? My experience is that by February most people avoid talking about their goals, and by March they can’t even remember what they were!  So why do so many of us abandon these once heart-felt pledges? And what do we need to do to achieve our goals?

From my experience there are three main reasons why we don’t achieve goals which we set for ourselves.  The first, and probably most well-recognised reason, is because we don’t create an action plan.  Without an action plan – outlining what we will do to achieve the goal – the goal remains a lofty aspiration with no ladder to meet it.  Action plans provide us with the how, a clear timeframe, and reinforce our own sense of agency in making things happen for ourselves. (Hint: The action plan must be written down with follow-up dates set to check in on progress).

The second reason for not achieving our goals is because the goal is actually not meaningful or important to us.  It might be lip service, it might be a cultural expectation or it might meet the needs of a loved one, but the goal doesn’t actually align with our personal values and needs.  Let’s take the example of wanting a promotion at work.  Do I really want the promotion?  It may mean longer hours, more stress and less time for personal interests? Do I want it for status or because it’s expected at my age?  Or do I want it for the extra challenge, the extra money, and the learning opportunity?  If we don’t know why we want something, we aren’t motivated to work hard for it. (In addition, if we do happen to achieve our goal, the win will feel empty unless we understand why it is important to us in the first place).

The final reason for not achieving our goals is because we don’t feel we have the inner resources or personal qualities to achieve them.  As an example, I may want the promotion at work, but I feel my indecisiveness holds me back from being a good manager.  Identifying which inner resources we need to grow in order to achieve our goals is critical.  The next step is then to use everyday opportunities to build these inner resources.  Taking my example of indecisiveness, how do I grow the inner resources to be more decisive? I start with the smallest opportunities to practice decisiveness and reinforce these.

The growing body of research in the area of neuroplasticity supports the idea that our talents, abilities and strengths are not fixed.  Through our thinking patterns and where we direct our attention, we can ‘build muscle’ in new areas of the brain, developing and reinforcing new neural pathways.  Even as a chronically indecisive person, I can actively engage the neural pathways in my brain for decisiveness.  The more I activate these neural pathways, the stronger this quality grows – like building muscle at the gym through repetitive exercise.  The mistake most of us make is that we start too big.  If I want to build my decisiveness, I don’t start with my next house purchase!  I take everyday actions – such as choosing my coffee, deciding what task to do next, giving feedback to a colleague – and I practice doing these decisively.  I become very conscious of reinforcing my decisiveness in these moments, and gradually the ‘decisive’ pathway becomes stronger in my brain. That is, I am building ‘decisive’ muscle or inner resources.  The same applies to any quality you wish to build – for example, calm, patience, gratitude, courage, confidence, persistence, and many more. (More on positive neuroplasticity in my next blog!)

Here is my checklist for achieving any goal you set yourself:

~ Why do you want to achieve this goal? How is the goal meaningful to you?

~ Do you have a clear action plan for achieving this goal?

~ What inner resources will you need in order to achieve this goals?  Which inner resources do you need to grow more of?

~ Which everyday opportunities do you have for building these inner resources?

All the best in your goal attainment!

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