I'm not a New Year's Resolution person. Last year I thought I'd give it a try, based on an incredibly complicated monthly chart system I found on Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project.
That lasted about a month. Too much work. Too many resolutions.
But this year I've given some real thought to what I want to change about myself. And I know from experience and research that the brain works best when it only has 2 or 3 things to remember. And if you write it down, the "reticular activating system" of your brain will go to work on a subconscious level to point out opportunities to achieve your goals. I know this sounds wacky--but it really works!
The Power of Three and the Write It Down Principle Explained
- The Power of Three - If the brain has more than 7 things to remember it goes into serious overload & you're bound to fail. Give the brain just 2 or 3 things to remember and your chances of success is ensured. The rational brain can function and help you out if it's not overloaded. With too much to remember, the emotional brain takes over--and you're pretty much sunk.
- Where did I learn all this? Check out the November 14, 2008 Radio Lab podcast on Choice. Baba Shiv of Stanford University clearly demonstrates what happens when you have too much to remember. It's pretty surprising.
Then they walk down the hall. Halfway down the hall each person is asked if they want a snack. They can have some gooey delicious chocolate cake, or some nice fresh fruit.
The result: By huge margins, the volunteers who had 7 numbers to remember choose the gooey chocolate cake. The volunteers with only 2 numbers to remember choose the fresh fruit.
The explanation: According to neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer, the rational-deliberate brain--the part more likely to choose fruit over cake gets easily overwhelmed. And when it's overwhelmed, by a mere 7 numbers, the emotional-brain takes over. These two systems are constantly vying for control--so make it easy on yourself. Don't overload your brain. The rational part isn't that strong! Stick to just 3 New Year's resolutions.
- Write It Down - I learned about the power of writing down goals back in 2000 from a quirky book by Henriette Anne Klauser, called Write It Down, Make It Happen. Here's how it works:
The best way to describe how the Reticular Activating System works is to think about when you're asleep or in a shopping mall.
"The RAS evaluates the nonessential nighttime noises--the dripping faucet, the crickets, or neighborhood traffic--and filters out the nonurgent, waking you up only for the urgent. The baby cries, the phone rings, the front door opens, and in a split second you are bolt upright in bed." Or if you're in a crowded mall--you'll always hear your name called.
- Write down your goals & resolutions & your RAS will keep on the look-out to make sure your instructions get carried out. It pays attentions to opportunites that will help you accomplish your goals. For instance, if your goal is to learn to dance--all of a sudden you will notice every ad for dance classes, or spot books & DVDs about learning to dance. You'll start meeting people who like to dance and who can direct you to the best dance teachers.
- Five years ago I wrote out a short list of things I wanted to accomplish. I put it in my dresser drawer & forgot about it. Last March I found the list, and I was shocked & amazed at how many of those goals I had accomplished. And I never looked at the list after I wrote it out.
My Official "Write It Down" List of Three Things I Want to Work On This Year!
- 1. Ditch Negative Talk. I'm basically a positive & understanding person, but I admit I have a problem with negativity in other people. It really upsets me. If I'm with a relative, co-worker, or friend who is moody, negative, angry or withdrawn, I react by talking about them to another relative, co-worker or friend to try & figure out "What's Up With Them?" This is a bad habit & it often breeds its own negativity backlash--reinforces my own hurt/worried/put-upon/angry feelings--and accomplishes nothing.
- 1. Talk to the person myself to find out what's going on--if I can help--if I contributed to their negative reaction--or if it's just none of my business.
- 2. Realize their negative mood/anger/etc has nothing to do with me & just ignore it & let it pass. It's not about me!
- 2. Ditch the Sugar/Fat Foods. My co-worker Mary is my inspiration for this resolution. She hasn't eaten any sugar for 20 years & doesn't miss it a bit. That's just amazing to me! She cut out sugar when she joined Weight Watchers 20 years ago, and noticed a quick weight drop in three weeks. By then she lost the sugar addiction and decided to keep it up. She still likes to bake, strictly for others of course, and she claims that just the smell of apple pie is satisfying to her.
The sugar isn't the real problem for me. It's that the sweets I crave contain sugar + white flour + fat = no nutritional value! Think cookies or ice cream or chocolate. Empty calories that fill me up and leave less room for the healthy stuff. I'm not eliminating all sweeteners, like occasional use of maple syrup, agave or brown sugar when it's needed for a healthy non-dessert recipe, like a little maple syrup on butternut squash.
So this is official. Keep me honest & let's see how this no sugar/fat resolution goes.
- 3. Listen Better. There's nothing worse than listening to someone when you're doing something else: like reading emails; surfing the Net; thinking about what you want to say next; planning what question you are going to ask next; chomping at the bit to interrupt; or just plain thinking about something else. It makes the speaker feel diminished, empty or hurt, and it makes you (ie. me), the listener feel dishonest, selfish & disrespectful. These are all things I admit to!
"Listening is an art and like any skill, it takes practice. Stop worrying so much about what your are going to say and try keeping your stories to yourself. The person who does the most talking ends up feeling like he or she knows and trusts the listener. The best way to build trust in someone is to listen and keep on listening.
As a general rule, the ideal guideline would be to talk 20% of the time and listen 80% of the time.
Here's a tip: If you are with someone and you aren't talking, but you are talking to yourself in your head, perhaps coming up with your response or judging or evaluating what the person is saying, you aren't really listening. You are talking to yourself in your head. Yes, that little voice that just said, "What are you talking about? I don't talk to myself." You might just as well get up and stand in a corner and talk to yourself.
Next time you are listening to someone, notice how much you talk to yourself. Then shift your focus back to the other person. Hear everything he or she has to say before you even start to think of a response. Listening is not so easy; it takes practice."
And "a good listening to" is about the best gift we can give each other.
And from The Times Union Low Life-The Cholesterol blog comes this "spot on" Thich Nhat Hanh quote:
“I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to relieve the grief of one person in the afternoon.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
Listening in the morning to someone's good news and listening in the afternoon to someone's bad news. Joy and relief. And all done with my mouth shut!