It’s the season for setting New Year’s resolutions, but how can you keep up with them?
Whether you want to read more, run a marathon, or anything in between, everyone knows setting a goal is the easy part. Staying motivated to reach your target is a whole other story, and one that starts with the neurons in our brains and the way these neurons communicate. Thankfully, based on our current understanding of the science behind motivation, there are some things you can do to keep your eyes – and brain – on the prize.
The science of motivation
Our brains share messages through chemicals called neurotransmitters that help with many different tasks. An important chemical involved in motivation is dopamine, which is often associated with reward pathways in the brain. Dopamine plays a key role in helping us stick to our resolutions by connecting feelings of pleasure to our successes. Every time we make progress towards a goal, or have a tiny victory on the way to achieving it, dopamine pathways in our brain give us positive feelings that strengthen our motivation.
Hacks to achieve your goals
With this knowledge in hand, here are a few things that you can do to trick your brain into staying focused on your goals:
- Break down your goals into smaller pieces: Learning a language can feel intimidating, but splitting up your studies into chunks makes it more attainable. Splitting up a big task into smaller pieces is helpful for us to think through how to tackle a goal, and it also reinforces the dopamine-driven rewards we get from crossing off an item from the list. (That’s also why it’s a good idea to include on your to-do list things you’ve already done!)
- Block time on your calendar to complete larger tasks: We all have said “I’ll get to that later,” but then later never comes. Psychologically, it’s harder to say no to a notification telling you to stick to your task. Put time in your daily routine to read if you’d like to finish more books. Schedule time in your day to keep up with your resolution.
- Track your streak: The longer you keep a streak going, the harder it is to break it. Log your progress with a very visible reminder on a calendar or sticky notes that you keep on your desk. The more you see these reminders, the better.
- Reduce temptations: Think about your “future self” and make decisions to nudge him or her in the right direction. If you’re cutting sweets, avoid the candy aisle. If you’re working out after work, don’t go home first before heading to the gym.
- Consider regret when temptation strikes: Get the “what if” spiral working in your favor. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, imagining how you’d feel if you missed your weigh in goal by a pound before you grab a snack you don’t need. Turn the difference from where you are and where you think you should be into a positive.
What are your resolutions, and how are you sticking to them?