Every New Year, we race to make a new wave of resolutions, a sea of habit change that promises a resurrection of our soul – or at the very least, our waistline. Yet every promise we make to ourselves is followed by the faint echo of fear and self-doubt – that little whisper in the back of our head reminding us of our past failures endured on the tails of New Years’ come and gone…last year’s diet disaster, that time we were going to give up cigarettes, the bad relationship that continued to rear its ugly head long after the love had dissolved.
It is at this moment that both hero and villain exist within us simultaneously, and we are suddenly presented with a choice – beat ourselves up for yet another failure, another miffed moment of growth, or practice self-compassion and seek out the superhero within.
Instead of attacking oneself with harsh words like “I need to try harder this time,” or “why can’t I do what I know I need to do?” it’s important to remember the resolution setting process is far more than just trying harder. Pointless are the moments of beating ourselves up because we “lack enough willpower.”
Rather than work harder, toiling the joys of our days away by filling them with harsh self-judgment, the secret of the inner-super hero is to literally outsmart ourselves. The path to outwitting oneself is approached by utilizing the power of the latter half of nature vs. nurture…and nurturing good habits. The secret is to finesse the neural pathway system of the brain by building a personal environment that is set up for success. Take Bruce Wayne – he did his crime-fighting and life-saving out in the world, but it was in his Batcave that he developed the tools to be supernatural. Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, Tony Stark the lab where he perfected his Iron Man Suit. To build your own superhero headquarters, stop focusing on “trying harder,” and use your environment to give yourself a leg up.
How our brains work
We humans are creatures of habit. Our brains look for the path of least resistance when doing any activity. The more we complete an activity on a regular basis, the less and less brainpower is required. When you first learned to drive a car, a task most overwhelming and terrifying at the advent, you were confronted with a litany of tasks – check your mirrors, put your hands at 10 and 2, turn on your blinker, step on the right pedal – oh, and watch out for other cars. After decades of practice, you probably don’t think twice about driving. It’s just something you do, somewhat on autopilot, much like brushing your teeth, compulsively checking Facebook and picking up your phone every time it buzzes. And the more times you complete any activity, the more your brain can forge new and faster pathways that require less brainpower. So, in order for us to build better habits, we need to minimize the amount of brainpower required for us to complete that good habit, and we need to maximize the amount of brainpower and steps required to complete bad habits.
And that’s exactly where building your very own Batcave comes in. As you set those formidable resolutions for 2017, give yourself the best shot at success by shaping your environment into an asset on the quest for a healthier lifestyle.
Your environment shapes your decisions
There are probably two places you spend most of your time – your home and your office. The objects in these environments craft your behavior far more than you realize, as your brain constantly takes stock of what’s around you and what you do when you see those certain things. When you see a refrigerator, your brain may think, “I get snacks here.” If you see your running shoes, your brain might say “I get lots of great blood flow here.” When you see your comfy couch and giant TV, your brain might say “Ok, time to zone out, I get hours of entertainment here.”
If these are decisions you’ve made dozens and dozens of times, your brain has to do minimal work to make those connections. But compare these mindless activities with a new habit you want to build, or a bad one you’d like to get rid of. For example, if you’ve resolved to take on a new exercise program every day after work, you need to come home – after you’ve used up all that willpower at work – walk past the couch, the wine glasses and the refrigerator, then walk into your bedroom, take off your work clothes, put on your workout clothes, lace up your shoes, and then walk past all of those amazing distractions all over again.
Next time you head to the store to purchase ingredients to cook a healthy meal, count how many fast food joints you have to drive past just to get to the doors of your local grocery – where you’ll then need to bypass the cookie aisle and the beer aisle all in the pursuit of some measly green vegetables. With compiling research demonstrating the limited personal supply of willpower, it helps to stack the deck in your favor as much as possible – and practicing discernment about what you surround yourself with has been a key secret of superheroes for centuries.
As you embark on your New Year’s quest to greatness, review your personal headquarters to accomplish two things – decrease the number of steps between you and building a good habit, and increase the number of steps between you and a bad habit. For instance, let’s say you wanted to practice yoga every morning – just for a week, why not try putting your yoga mat in the middle of the living room floor? Rather than hiding it in the corner, displaying it in the living room will make it a much more obvious reminder to engage. If you’re inspired to rid yourself of a bad habit, like watching TV, try to limit your recording of reruns of shows you’ve already seen. Next thing you know, you’ll turn on the TV and realize there’s nothing new recorded…leading you to pursue other activities – you may even read a book! When you start to see how effective it can be to surround yourself with the right cues, you’ll soon recognize endless ways of using your environment to your advantage and those effects will only compound each other. You’ll no longer keep junk food in the house, which will make you feel even less guilty for eating a slice of pizza or two on the weekend. The options are endless.
In addition to strategically moving things, try creating a vision board as well. Cut out images from a magazine that represent how you want to feel in various areas of your life, like your work, your relationships and your financial status. Seeing these images serves as an instant reminder to your brain as to the future you’re envisioning.
If you really watch too much TV, cancel your cable. Buy an Apple TV or a Roku Player since both offer the option to purchase only the shows you want to watch – which makes for less mindless flipping. Wasting too much time on your computer? If you’ve got a Mac, install the “Self-Control” software and literally block yourself from the sites you continually open every five minutes. Here’s to a brand-new year and your brand-new Batcave!
What one new habit are you trying to build, and how can you make it easier? What’s one bad habit you’re trying to get rid of, and how are you making it harder to expel it than it has to be?
Sourced: Steve Kamb, NerdFitness.com