Welcome to 2020!
Where do you sit when it comes to new years resolutions? I quite like the idea of declaring what I’m going to prioritise in the upcoming year. The problem is, while I’m very good at the declaring bit, I’m haven’t always been so good at the actual prioritising!
I think I probably spent around 25 years declaring that this was the year I was going to be really organised, eat better, exercise more and lose 5 kilos. For some reason, I always need to lose 5 kilos, no more no less! What about you? Do you think about making changes at the start of the year?
A 2016 study found that 80% of new years resolutions fail by the second week in February. Which made me feel slightly better. But also made me question why? Are we all just lazy and irresponsible and are resolutions pointless? Or is it that we’re not going about change in the right way?
Change and the brain
I used to think that my inability to get very far with my new year plans meant I was lacking in willpower. However, study after study has shown that if we want to make changes that last, willpower is not the answer.
Your brain is a terrible future planner. It likes patterns and familiarity. It also likes efficiency and that’s why it relies on autopilot. Information comes in from the outside world and we respond based on pattern recognition that becomes more and more ingrained as we mature. The longer we have been doing something, the less likely we are to question it.
To change your experience of anything, including work, you need to open your mind. The good news is – your brain is malleable. By simply choosing to open your mind to new ideas, to stay curious and explore all options, you embody the perfect illustration of a growth mindset…see, not just for the kids! Failure just shows you that you’ve tried, not that you’re wrong. And being less risk averse isn’t about being more reckless, it’s about being more realistically optimistic.
The plasticity of our brain means that we have the ability to change our default settings and create the future we want.
“Whether you think you can or you can’t – you’re right.”
Why is change so hard?
When doctor’s tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change, only 1 in 7 people will make the recommended lifestyle changes. Desire and motivation alone are not enough to change the status quo.
Being on autopilot means that life follows very familiar patterns, this is much more efficient for the brain as it requires less effort and less energy. Your brain is wired to avoid change, it perceives change as a threat to which it creates a stress response which stops us from taking risks.
On autopilot we don’t question where the underlying entrenched habits come from and whether they serve us any longer, we just switch off and let life happen to us. But neuroscience shows us that we can take back control of our minds by rewiring our brain pathways to make lasting positive change to our lives. We do this by creating new habits.
Making change stick
This is the hard part. Research has shown that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to create a new habit! The commonly quoted average is 66 days, but like most things to do with the brain, it’s person and behaviour specific.
Having fun is possibly the most under-rated motivational tool on the planet. Think back to the last time you really enjoyed yourself at work – how did it make you feel? Wouldn’t you like to feel like that more often? So why aren’t you doing more of the things that bring you joy? If you can learn how to pair play with persistence and progress, you’ll be unstoppable! And pretty happy too. 😊
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says that the key to building lasting habits is to focus on creating a new identity first. Your current behaviour reflects your current identity, so if you want to change your behaviour for good, you need to start believing new things about yourself. For example, instead of setting a goal of loosing 5 kilos, set a goal of becoming the type of person who moves more everyday. Become the type of person who will get the outcome you want.
You can read more about identity habits here.
Paint a picture of 2020 that excites you!
The clearer you are on what you want, the more likely you are to end up achieving it. So, what would make you a #happyteacher in 2020?
My answer is: I want to experience more JOY at work.
This might sound like a somewhat frivolous ambition for a deputy headteacher, but research has shown that deliberately engaging in habits and behaviours that boost your happiness lead to a range of health benefits (and I’ll be nicer to be around!).
A 2017 study of roughly 7,000 adults found that those with positive wellbeing were more likely to:
🏃♀️ be physically active
🍎 eat fresh fruit and vegetables
😴 have better sleep
🧘♀️ experience lower stress levels
👩⚕️ have a strong immune system
👵 live longer
💖 have better weight management (maybe I’ll finally shed those 5 ‘extra’ kilos that in my mind I’ve been carrying around since 1995??!!)
What’s your ONE BIG WORK THING for 2020?
Not only do you need to be clear on what you want, but you really need to be in love with your vision of 2020. Why? Because when we’re in love we experience high levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the rush of pleasure we trigger via desire and reward. It’s important that you create a vision you love because then your brain will reward you with a dopamine hit, every time you move a little closer to living your one big work thing.
The secret to success is to create a vision that inspires but that is grounded in reality. If you can clearly paint a picture of what it is you want, then the most important job is done: you’ve got clarity on how you want work to be.
I hear that question – if it’s so easy, why aren’t we all doing it? The answer is simple: effort. It doesn’t just take effort to get clear about what you want, it takes effort to make the changes that will get you there, one step at a time. But once you’re clear on what you want, you’re ready for the fun bit: working out how to achieve it.
TRY THIS: In this article, neuroscientist Dr Sarah McKay explains how mental imagery activates the same brain regions as the ‘real’ experience. One study showed that just thinking about exercise strengthened participants muscles even when they didn’t move an inch.
If you’d like to try visualisation, this approach will set you up for success: