Brain Hacks That Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Brain Hacks that Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick

Starting January 1st of 2018, I will cut my carb intake!


This new year’s resolution may have also landed on your list of new year’s resolutions for the incoming year, and perhaps the years before. I also had it on my list the years past but I am still overweight!

Why do we make new year’s resolutions and not follow-through on them?

make new year's resolutions

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?

Our mission control-the brain, simply just didn’t cooperate! Why? How do we make it work to our advantage?

‘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 our new year’s resolutions onto its task list. It will be too much for the prefrontal cortex to handle and you will experience mental fatigue. These new and unfamiliar tasks are the first to go!

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 the 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.

stressed-out at work

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.  This is why we eat a lot when we are stressed-out at work or we easily lash out when we are thinking of so many things.

Psychologist, John Sweller theorized that we need instructional design if we are to teach our learners new skill or their brain will be on ‘cognitive load’ state wherein it won’t accept any new information anymore.

Chunk it up for your brain to chew!

This tells us to focus our mind on just one goal or action. We may also chunk up our goals through the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound) rule. 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 palatable to your brain as this provides your prefrontal cortex or conscious mind clarity of what you are trying to meet.

‘Will’ issue? Train your brain through self-talk & visual boards.

you can train your brain

Yes, you can train your brain. We don’t grow new neurons (brain cells) after birth but the synapse (brain cell connect to another brain cell so electrical or chemical 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 with our daily undertakings. However, other synapses are eliminated like those that are no longer being used. This ‘synaptic pruning’ allows us to thrive in an ever-changing environment. We can make new synapses and strengthened them!

You may try reframing  your negative thoughts or divert attention to the next pleasurable thing- your goal! 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 find ways to make it. Visual boards, with pictures of your goal or the new idea or quote you want to live by for the coming year, can be a constant reminder that feeds into your prefrontal cortex to process and with constant encounter of this quote or picture, the information goes down into your limbic system (amygdala, hypothalamus and thalamus) or subconscious mind which helps you put emotions into this goal or action and gets planted there. When this happens, the desired action will just be a second nature to you.

reframing your negative thoughts

Remember that the kids who passed the marshmallow test diverted their attention to remembering songs they learned and singing them or focusing on other things, like the desks or plate, in the room. If you are faced with a challenge at work, you may want to divert your attention into realizing that this is an opportunity for you to change things for the better.

Feed Your Brain

Oily fish, leafy greens, tofu, egg yolk and walnuts are rich in omega 3 fats which help improve concentration, memory focus and moods. Remember, your brain matter is 60% fats, like omega 3 and phospholipids.

feed your brain

What we eat affects the circuit between our gut and the brain so what we eat affects the way we think and moods. The vagus nerve connects the brain and the intestine physically and in this nerve, signals traverse across. This is why our mood is the first one affected when we are hungry. Migraine attacks or depression is linked to having low magnesium level. Magnesium obtained from broccoli, asparagus and spinach help calm the mind.

I think it is best not to push ourselves into the ‘weight loss’ feat but rather to replace or incorporate foods that feed the brain and will consequently improve our quality of thoughts then our behaviors.

Happy New Year, everyone and Godspeed! I would also like to thank all of you for always taking the time to drop by. Your support made my 2017 a fulfilling year for me. Remember that the best is yet to come for all of us! It’s never too late to dream and learn. 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

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Published by fran

Fran Saguindang Riego de Dios, MS has been in training and leadership development for more than a decade now. In earning her Master of Science in Biology degree, she joined the College of Science and Mathematics faculty of MSU-IIT and published her studies in Asia Life and Philippine Scientists Journals. For her, moving into the corporate world felt odd at first but with the scientific method and discipline in her backpack, it has become a fulfilling experience. You may also visit her personal Leadership Blog Site at Leadership Genome Project. She also enjoys music (sings and plays the piano) and art (portrait sketch). Most Talented Training & Development Leaders in the Philippines 2019 (14th Employer Branding Awards - Employer Branding Institute-India).)

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