Failed New Year’s Resolutions? Brain Hacks That Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick and Achieve Your Goals

Blog Post

“I don’t want to make new year’s resolutions anymore! I have consistently failed through the years.”

– Most of us

Do you still make new year’s resolutions? Are you the type of person who targets to achieve a goal for the year or are you tired of making one? I believe that we all want to set goals for ourselves but with series of failed pursuits, we just stopped making them. I challenge you to stop accepting that you are not good enough. You are more than enough to be able to achieve your goals. You are worthy of all your dreams. All you need is to understand, is yourself- what makes you motivated and what discourages you to pursue or persevere. (Option to watch & listen than read, is available below.)

Our brain can learn anything!!! Our brains are not totally in control of us because our brains have cells that continue to make electrical connections or synapses to keep the key learning we take as we go through life. We just need to know how we trick our brain and hack our brain system to help us become more in control of ourselves.

Did you know that 88% of all new year’s resolutions fail (2007 survey of over 3,000 people conducted by British psychologist Richard Wiseman)? What could have gone wrong? How do we trick our brains to help us follow through the actions we need to complete to achieve our goals? Here are some brain hacks I have learned that enabled me to consistently and consciously work on my goals or new year’s resolutions.

‘The Cognitive Load’ – The Overwhelmed Brain

Touch your forehead, behind it is your prefrontal cortex that is tasked to help you think, maintain focus, keep you logical & process your short-term memory. This part of the brain has a lot to hold up for and now we are adding a new and unfamiliar new year’s resolutions and goals onto its task list. It will be too much for the prefrontal cortex to handle and you may experience mental fatigue.

In an experiment led by Prof. Baba Shiv at Stanford University, where they asked one group to memorize a 2-digit number while another group was asked to memorize an 8- digit number. Both groups were led to a hall where they were offered either a bowl of fruit salad  or a slice of chocolate cake. The group with 8-digit number to memorize chose the cake over fruit salad. The brain got overwhelmed and was quick to find the next pleasurable thing.

Our prefrontal cortex is connected to our amygdala. It helps the Amygdala, which is responsible for our emotions, validates if the fear or threat is logical and just. In this experiment, our pre-frontal cortex got tired and our subconscious mind just took over! It will pursue its wants whether logical or not.  

The brain will be on ‘cognitive load’ state wherein it won’t accept any new information anymore. This is why we eat a lot when we are stressed-out or we easily get discouraged and not pursue. However, we can hack this brain circuit.

What Is Your ‘WHY’?

My husband and I in 2015 at Megamall, Metro Manila, Philippines

In 2014, my goal was to be able to open an account in the stock market so Joel can learn trading and he’s got something to do and that was achieved. He has now expanded to the global market arena. In 2015, my goal was to get a car so I can drive Joel around as he was still wheelchair-bound that year and that this metro is not really friendly for handicap to go around. It was in October the same year when I was able to get one. In 2016, my goal was to get out of the condominium we were renting which was situated right in the middle of the city where air quality was poor. We found a small house and lot in a gated village at the mountain area which was outside the big city. My belief was that Joel may be healed there breathing fresh air and eating fresh produce.

In 2017 my goal was for us to acquire a small condominium in the metro for investment and perhaps a place to stay, when vacant. We were able to acquire one and moving-in was in January the following year. 2018 was set to focus on my husband’s health as he was still on the wheelchair again, though condition has slightly improved since we moved out of the city. In March we found an awesome medical doctor and herbalist and three months later, Joel was able to walk again. In 2019 was the dream to travel since Joel can already do so. We were able to go to Singapore and Malaysia for our anniversary celebration and we also went to see my grandmother with a side trip to a beautiful beach resort in Mindanao. It was also our dream since to acquire a small house and lot in Davao City because we would like to retire there and that was fulfilled in the same year.

I realized that my goals set the years prior did not have a strong answer to my WHY question. Joel and I got married in September 2013 and so I started setting up goals in the coming year that closely followed. I had a compelling why – answer. Your amygdala will already allow you to feel the emotion just by remembering the dream you set at the start of the year. It is actually not the material things that you want to acquire but the emotion you will feel as soon as you achieved them.

Chunk It Up For Your Brain To Chew!

enough time in your hands

One goal at a time! If you set two to three goals and they can be achieved by a single consistent action then go for it! If you noticed on the goals I set as I shared above, just one goal a year. There are goals that may not be achievable for a year or two so step goals will have to be set each year. You can follow the SMART Rule (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound). If you say you want to cut your carb intake, you may also need to answer the following questions: What specific food carbs you want to avoid? By how much would the reduction be? Were there signs in the past that this goal was achieved? What’s the purpose of losing weight? 

This set of information is now digestible and palatable to your brain as this provides your prefrontal cortex or conscious mind clarity of what you are trying to meet.

The year 2020 was originally set to focus on my personal projects (step goals): to consistently post leadership lessons on my leadership project page and blog; as well as cover songs for my music project page during weekends to set myself up for my long-term dream of becoming a song writer and an author. Pandemic happened. I started to work from home and so my 5-hour drive daily became available for me to dispose. Time is really important for me. I hate for time to pass without being utilized fully. I thought I should be able to broaden my knowledge so I studied online courses in Harvard University online or HarvardX on leadership theories and Neuroscience. My goal was to complete all three Neuroscience courses but I thought that I should start writing songs and write a book which were the ultimate dreams.

I published that book “5 Whys To Discover Your Purpose” (Buy Now) in Amazon and released 3 singles in Apple Music, Spotify and Amazon Music. I also started a YouTube channel dedicated to all my projects. I am passionate about sharing what I know. I don’t have kids to leave this world with. My songs, books, videos, blogs and conversations are my only legacy. Oh I planted an avocado tree!

Train Your Brain Through Self-Talk & Visual Boards

relaxing by the shore

Yes, you can train your brain as shared above. We don’t grow new neurons (brain cells) after birth but the synapse (brain cell connect to another brain cell so electrical signals pass) increase through time as we learn new things as a child but reduces as we grow older. This is because there are synapses that are strengthened as it is highly utilized through repeated experiences or habits or with our daily undertakings. However, other synapses are eliminated like those that are no longer being used. This ‘synaptic pruning’ allows us to thrive or adapt in an ever-changing environment. For old habits to die, we must stop doing them and it should go away. We can make new synapses and strengthened those that are good for us.

My new year’s resolution in 2020 was t0 stop feeling unworthy and start receiving or acknowledging that I am good enough to achieve my dreams. I have always been unsure of myself and was always afraid of criticism. I don’t want to be vulnerable. I can’t commit mistakes so Id rather not try. However, my long-time dream of becoming an author and a song writer has been in the back burner for a long time. Before it turns to ashes (ran out of time as I am getting older and older), I should fulfill it. I told myself that “I am done with being shy and playing small! I don’t care what they say anymore. I know God created me for my dreams so I am doing it.”

You may try reframing  your negative thoughts or divert attention to anything that will regain confidence and strength. If your self-talk is “I will fail again” or “I can’t make it”, most likely you are right because you will not exert a muscle to avoid failing or to try to find ways to make it. Don’t expect anyone else to lift you up but yourself. Love and be kind to yourself. Like you are talking to a child you really love. Self-talk is powerful. It will push your pre-frontal cortex to focus and your amygdala will trigger happy hormone. Your brain’s pleasure center will be triggered and it will feel good.

Our senses are received by our pre-frontal cortex. Visual boards, with pictures of your goal or quotes, can be a constant reminder that feeds into your prefrontal cortex to process. With constant encounter of this quote or picture, the information goes down into your limbic system (amygdala, hypothalamus and thalamus) or subconscious mind which triggers exciting emotions. I used to create vision boards before but I was so shy to hang it on my wall because I don’t want other people to see it. I kept it and did not serve its purpose quite well but some of them have come true like “success (my definition)” in my career. I made my digital vision board before 2021 came and set it as my home screen on my phone just to help me be reminded of it and the emotion it brings.

Happy New Year, everyone and Godspeed! Remember that the best is yet to come for all of us! It’s never too late to dream and learn. I would also like to thank all of you for always taking the time to drop by. I hope that I was able to help you. God is faithful.


The Wall Street Journal – Blame It On The Brain
Very Well – What Is Brain Plasticity?
Psychology Today – How To Train Your Brain To Think Differently
Popular Science – Why your brain makes New Year’s resolutions impossible to keep
Christine Bailey – New Year, New Brain

Published by fran

Fran Saguindang Riego de Dios, MS has been in training and leadership development for 15 years now. She was awarded one of the Most Talented Training & Development Leaders in the Philippines 2019 during the 14th Employer Branding Awards by Employer Branding Institute. She also enjoys art and music. You may also visit her personal Leadership Blog Site at Leadership Project.

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