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NEUROPLASTICITY AND GOALS

March 2016

Were you one of the many who made a whole host of New Year’s resolutions only to find yourself wavering a week or two later?   Well, don’t beat yourself up, you are not alone. Most people have great intentions on New Year’s Eve and sprout a long list of good resolutions, but sadly it is the follow through that they fail in. They give up long before they have had a chance to create and entrench a new habit.

We forget as adults just how long it took us to learn simple tasks that today we take for granted, such as sitting, walking, learning to ride a bicycle. These simple tasks took time, patience and practice to learn. And the same with leaning a new habit. Now there are two aspects to learning a new habit. On the one hand there is neuroplasticity, and on the other, is some basic logical understanding of the human personality.

Let’s look at neuroplasticity first. Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to sprout new neurons as well as to make new connections and pathways between those neurons, giving rise to the complex network within your brain. In order to learn a new habit, part of what you need to do then is to practice, practice, practice, so that over time, your brain can build this new network and the positive habit can be entrenched.

In order to utilize and trigger neuroplasticity there are two important concepts to remember. The first one is: “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. For example, let’s say you are trying to exercise more regularly. As you practice setting your alarm each morning, getting up to go for your walk, a new firing pattern between neurons is created.   As you repeat this routine, the activation of these neurons at the same time will create a new brain map, i.e. new connections and pathways. The more that new brain map is used the clearer and more quickly the neurons will fire.

The second rule is “Neurons that fire apart, wire apart.” This means that when you stop getting up to go for your walk in the morning, this newly formed brain map begins to disintegrate and the protein needed to form a new neural pathway is used to further establish and embed older, more entrenched pathways. Research has shown that in order for a new neural pathway to be established in the brain, it takes 63 days – 63 days for a new habit to be learnt. But continual practice is still needed to firmly entrench it in your brain.

So don’t give up on those resolutions – just be smarter about how you add them to your repertoire.

Now let’s look at the second reason why most people fail to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. And there are really three main arguments here. Firstly, we don’t create a good action plan in which we outline what actions we need to take to achieve our goal. For example, what days we will get up early to go for our morning walk, what alternative we will put in place if it rains, how long we will walk for, how we will measure our progress?

The second reason why we fail to stick to our New Year’s resolutions is that very often we make resolutions that do not have value to ourselves, they are not meaningful to us. They are based on other’s expectations or are done to meet the needs of others. Unless your goals are meaningful for you, and resonate for you, you will not stick to them.

And finally, if you feel that you don’t have the inner resources or innate qualities to achieve your goals, then you will not. So part of setting your goal in the first place, is to address this very issue. You need to look at what you need to do to help yourself build those inner resources so that you can increase the probability of you achieving your goals or resolutions.

So using a combination of neuroplasticity and some basic principles, you can build new muscle in new areas of your brain, and achieve the very outcomes you set out to achieve.