Stay Focused For More Than a Couple Days! (Psychology & Bio-Chemistry of Habits)

Stay Focused For More Than a Couple Days! (Psychology & Bio-Chemistry of Habits)

Don’t you hate it when you set a new goal or make a commitment and fall off track in just a few days? I know I do. It can feel very defeating.

Not only that, but when you lose focus on programs or routines you’ve invested money in, it can be very expensive! And it can make you doubt yourself the next time you consider joining a gym, buying a self help book or trying a fitness or eating plan.

I want to share a way that I help my clients get through the moment when they almost give up on themselves! In order to stay focused on commitments you make to yourself or others, it’s helpful to understand the psychology of habits and the brain’s role in staying focused.

Every habit originally begins as a choice of behavior that over time . . . becomes automatic. All habits are comprised of three parts:

  • Situation (or trigger)
  • Action test or behavior)
  • Reward (what you get out of it)

Most diet, exercise and wellness programs will tell you that the key to being successful in changing a habit or reaching a goal lies in giving yourself a great reward BUT…as far as the brain is concerned, it’s not only about the reward.

The goal you set and how you set it does as much to “wire” the brain for action as does the reward.

EVERY time you make a commitment – whether it be to your business, your spouse, your kids, a charity project, a personal wellness goal or any other commitment you make to YOURSELF, your brain produces certain chemicals. The very act of setting a goal trains your brain to be excited. The main chemical released when you set your sights on a new accomplishment is Dopamine.  (side note ladies – if your husband or partner loves to “fix” things more than he likes to listen to how you feel about problems, it’s because Dopamine is the dominant chemical of the male brain. Men like to set goals and achieve them. Men and women are bio-chemically different creatures :))

[Tweet “This means that bio-chemically . . . follow through starts with the GOAL – not only the REWARD.”]

Once you set a goal, you’ll automatically feel motivated because your brain “pumps” out the Dopamine. However, this will only work for a certain amount of time. Expect that. In as little as a few days, you’ll have developed a “threshold” for Dopamine . . . meaning, the same goal won’t stimulate the same type of chemical release.

New Year’s Resolutions are the classic example. You set that goal at the beginning of the year and you are ALL fired up to make it happen, but the average person breaks their commitment in 6-12 days.

Here’s the SOLUTION for fast fading motivation:

Continually set new goals.

The brain LOVES variety.

Ernestine Shepherd

The way to keep from feeling down, or bored or blah is to set multiple small goals (increasing in difficulty) over time versus setting one big goal.

I’ll use myself as an example. Recently I wrote about a 10 day yoga challenge I set for myself. What I didn’t tell you when I shared that goal is that yoga is only one small part of my commitment to myself. I really have a much bigger goal . . . get back into the physical shape I was in 2 years ago and the EVEN bigger goal that is my greatest desire is to AGE WELL! I’d like to be in my best shape ever . . . physically, emotionally and spiritually with each passing decade. In other words, I’d like to be in my best shape at 50, and then top that at 60, and so on and so on! If I was only looking at that big picture, it would be INEVITABLE that I would get discouraged and lose focus on making it happen. 10 years is a long time away! The mind loves to sabotage us by looking for a quick fix. One of the mind’s favorite games is ALL or NOTHING . . . meaning “make it all happen right now or just give up completely.”

So instead of setting myself up to fail, I’m creating a series of small goals that all contribute to the big picture. The 10 day yoga challenge was a first step. Then I’ve added running. A little further on in this post I’ll share the latest goal I added to my plan – which is one that I never expected to add!

I encourage you to use this very same process with your commitments to yourself.

Set a big picture intention, but then keep yourself motivated and focused on the intention with a series of smaller, EVER CHANGING goals. This is how habits become lifestyle.

Where do rewards fit in? There are 2 things you need to know about rewards:

  1. Sounds obvious, but you do need to reward yourself. When you reward yourself, your brain releases another chemical called Endorphin. Endorphin is key to keep you feeling satisfied and happy with what you are doing. I can’t tell you how often I see people forget to reward themselves. Don’t put pressure on yourself to make commitments just because you “should.”
  2. Over time you will HABITUATE your reward so, just like a goal, it’s important to keep changing your reward. Whatever works and turns you on won’t work forever so switch it up.

For the 10 day yoga challenge, my reward was a massage. For the integration of running . . .my reward was a new swim suit I’d been eyeing.

When you use this process to make commitments to yourself, you can feel happier and CONTENT with what you are doing. You’ll feel GOOD about yourself!!!

What is the new goal I added to my intention of aging well? I mentioned it’s one I never expected to add. Here it is . . .

My Pull Up

One year from now, I want to be able to do a pull up. I want that arm strength. Recently I was back home to visit my parents for my high school reunion, and I was in the city park where I grew up. My cousin and best friend and I were goofing around like kids and the goal came to mind. We agreed on it together. You’ll see from the picture  . . . I have a long way to go. Not only could I NOT do a pull up, I struggled to move across the monkey bars. All that will change over the next year! I’ll change it by setting small strength training goals for my arms, and switch up the goal and the rewards.

Wish me luck!!

PS – in case you think my goal of being in better shape at 60 than I will be at 50 is far fetched . . . check out the picture above of Ernestine Shepherd . . . she’s 80 years old! She didn’t start working out until age 56! I have an advantage . . . I’ve worked out most of my life before the last 2 years. Stay tuned . . . 🙂

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