On New Year’s Resolutions. Hint: It’s All About Gaining Mental Capacity and Focus

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As we make it through the holidays and turn our attention toward 2018, what’s on everyone’s minds? NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS, of course. I put it in caps because it’s such a BIG DEAL.

We want to get in shape, find new friends, make more money, get a better job, take our businesses to the “next level.” You know—all the normal stuff that we wish and hope for here in the Western Hemisphere (New Year’s resolutions are specifically a Western Hemisphere thing, if you didn’t know).

The big goofy resolutions that are most popular in the Western Hemisphere (it’s funny every time!) are:

  1. Get in shape
  2. Eat better and less food
  3. Stop procrastinating (?!)
  4. Improve your focus and mental skills
  5. Meet new people
  6. Become more confident, take more chances
  7. Earn more money
  8. Become more polite
  9. Reduce stress
  10. Get more sleep

#4 is really interestingly, though. That’s right, one of the items on many folks’ lists this year is gaining mental capacity and focus. Wow, that’s great! Now how do I get one of these new-fangled mental capacities?

Here’s the thing: Gaining mental capacity and focus is not exactly the sort of New Years-y resolution-y sort of thing that Americans like to think they can pick up as a brand new idea, roll with it for three weeks, and then have a brand new, shiny life.

Gaining mental capacity and focus is a practice, a dedication, and a change of overall life pace to make room for new mental capacity. It’s getting rid of old ideas that aren’t useful and getting into new habits and routines that will set the tone for the rest of your life.

Sound difficult? Sure, it’s a priorities shift. It’s making more time for your mental capacity to grow. It’s stimulating brain bubbles that used to be charged up but aren’t anymore and there’s a good bit of electricity that has to be generated for a sustained period of time in order to make it all happen.

A Psychological Study of New Year’s Resolutions

I remember watching Oprah Winfrey back in the 1990’s, when she was still on broadcast TV in the afternoons. Back then she was very publicly going through challenges with her weight and talking about the difficulties that she continues to find in getting to the other side of her efforts. She knows now that the only way for her body constitution to be slender is to eat very little, and very specific foods, and probably no sugar at all. Shoot, not everybody’s body is like that. She got a bum deal.

It sucks and this kind of realization is a huge training for the mind that can continue to be an issue for years and years. It’s an ongoing thing. It’s a focused effort to change the way you think from what seems very natural to what is actually very healthy.

And this is why New Year’s resolutions can seem so ridiculous. Because most of the time we set ourselves up for failure by setting them.

Just think about the last time you set a resolution to begin in January. If you were successful, the likelihood is that you were already in that mode and this was just a good time to continue and intensify what you were already doing. But if you set a new resolution to do something big when you weren’t at all in the habit of already doing it, it probably didn’t go so well.

How Long Does It Really Take to Form a New Habit?

This phenomenon of deciding to start on January 1st is the reason health clubs end up seeing their biggest and busiest times in the first 3 weeks of the year.

And then it drops off. I’ve seen research that suggests that if you want to begin a new lifestyle, you have to live that way for at least 6 weeks (I’ve also seen as many as 90 days) in order for new habits to replace the old ones. But when you were smoking cigarettes for 15 years and decide to quit on January 1st or eating fast food and not exercising at all for 5 years before deciding to go cold turkey and sign up for a gym membership on January 1st, 6 weeks is a painfully long time to make a 180 degree turn into a whole new life. It’s probably so hard that it’s almost impossible.

Most people who set goals and resolutions in this way set themselves up for failure in a big way. Making big changes and growing is 99% practice for more mental capacity and focus than anything else. But hardly anyone seems to consider that piece. They seem to think setting the resolution or purchasing the gym membership just is making the mindset shift.

Gaining Mental Capacity and Focus is a Practice

Shifting your mindset is not something that can be purchased, or obtained in any other way than one slow step at a time, with focused intention.

Let’s go back to our list:

  1. Get in shape
  2. Eat better and less food
  3. Stop procrastinating (?!)
  4. Improve your focus and mental skills
  5. Meet new people
  6. Become more confident, take more chances
  7. Earn more money
  8. Become more polite
  9. Reduce stress
  10. Get more sleep

PSA here: you can’t procrastinate if you’re looking to gain mental capacity and focus. Just sayin’.

You’re not going to get anything done without a powerful mental focus. The items on all of the lists of all of the things that people want to do to change all come from the same stuff: a powerful mental capacity and focus.

How do you meet new people when you are introverted and tired? You have to not be introverted and tired. How do you become “more polite”? By being happier. How you do not rely on food to make you feel better? Find something healthier to lift your spirits. How do you learn to enjoy exercising if you hate it? Find an exercise that you don’t hate.

The point is that making any kind of profound change in your life requires a shift of perspective. And shifts in perspective require mental training, focus, motivation, and sheer determination. Not setting a goal and then forgetting about it three weeks later.

So, as always, I’ve got some tips to help you succeed in attempting to change how you live based upon a particular arbitrary date on the calendar:

1. If you want to make a change, how about starting earlier to boost your chances? If you’re trying to eat healthier, start with your meal today to begin the process of shifting your mindset. It’s much easier to ease into change rather than making a huge and potentially violent shift for your body and mind.

  • Instead of: “I’m going to live it up over the holidays because austerity is coming,” think, “I’m going to start focusing on eating healthier in little ways today.”

 

2. Give yourself time and space to screw up. You’re probably not going to hit the gym and eat vegan for 6 weeks if you’ve been couch potato-ing it up and eating junk food as a habit for the last year. Create a mindset that will accept any inevitable setbacks.

  • Instead of: “I missed going to the gym today. I suck,” think, “what can I do today to set myself up to get to the gym tomorrow?”

 

3. Every growth process is two steps forward, one step back. Don’t try to jump to the end game. Instead, create a roadmap for yourself that holds easily attainable goals along the way to one big goal.

  • Instead of rewarding yourself only when you achieve that one big goal, focus on rewards for smaller milestones along the way.

 

4. Understand that the mind has to be exercised if it is to be fit. The best way to do that is to create discipline. Do something everyday. Practice a disciplined yoga tradition, go running, meditate, learn a musical instrument. Get into something that has a set way of doing the same thing every day just to train yourself to be disciplined. Without it, change is impossible.

  • Instead of: “I’ve made it to the gym everyday this week, so I have no willpower left for anything else,” think, “going to the gym is not about willpower, it’s about shifting my entire perspective.”

 

5. Use your discipline to help you in every life situation. The more you understand how holding yourself accountable might be the most valuable thing you can do for yourself, the better your life will be. And the more resilient you will become to everything around you, including your own problems! Practice mental capacity and focus. All. The. Time.

  • Instead of compartmentalizing the pieces of your life, pay attention to how everything affects and relates to everything else.

 

Mostly, just focus on what you’re doing when you’re doing it, no matter what you do. And if that makes you tired, then for goodness sake, rest. If being productive is too much intensity for one day, then either lessen the number of things that you do in a day, or take time to care for yourself and get right back up again.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. And it’s not about getting a bigger head. It’s about being better with the one you’ve got. Go ahead, don’t wait. Get on your resolution now. It’ll bring JOY to the world. Ha.

Happy New Year!

Photo credit: manopphimsit / 123RF Stock Photo

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