If you were to be completely honest with yourself – how many of your plans, goals, dreams and New Year’s resolutions made to reality?
If you are like most people, then it is most likely that any goal and intention that requires significant change will be abandoned in few months or even weeks time, and we will be back to our old routines and unhealthy habits,
Research shows that 31% of New Year’s resolutions are being abandoned by the second week, 48% by the end of the month, and in total, approximately 92% of all goals eventually get abandoned.
So why is it?
Why is it, that despite having great motivation to do things differently and knowing how much better, healthier, happier and more successful we could be – we end up not taking action to make it happen?
In a modern world, we often think of ourselves as rational and intelligent human beings, however, in reality, most of the time we are driven by automatic behaviours, emotional impulses and ingrained habits that are run by much older reptilian and mammalian parts of the brain. We set our goals and intentions with our rational parts of the brain, but the older parts of our neurological structures often have a different hidden agenda.
So here comes the famous story of a ‘chimp brain’ – primitive, territorial, impulsive, emotional, lazy, seeking instant rewards and gratification, causing stress and anxiety, and forever sabotaging our goals and intentions, as famously acclaimed by Dr Steve Peters in his book ‘The Chimp Paradox’. Therefore, if you want to overcome your obstacles, the rational thing to do is to resist emotional impulses and temptations and learn how to manage this part of your brain so it doesn’t have a power over us – like a dog on a lead, right?
From an evolutionary point of view, your survival and continuation of the species is always a primary concern. Therefore, all the neurological structures that we have developed through billions of years of evolution are based on what has worked so far to keep us alive. Those who experimented with taking too many risks and getting too far from the safety zone – are not our ancestors. Evolution equipped us with many mechanisms to enable us to survive – such as stress response to deal with sudden life-threatening dangers, ability to form social bonds so collectively we can survive under conditions that no lone individual could face, and safety anchors that tell us how far we can go from our familiar environment before it endangers our existence.
The oldest parts of our brains are often called primitive, underdeveloped, in need to be regulated and directed by our intelligent, rational neocortex. But how can those limbic and reptilian parts of the brain be inferior, if they still have an important role to play today against all evolutionary odds?
When you master a specific skill by practising it over and over again, you become talented, skilled, and highly regarded expert at what you do – but our reptilian and mammalian parts of the brain did just that and doesn’t seem to be credited for billions of years of practice, preventing us from seeing and utilising their full potential. Therefore we shouldn’t fight or even manage our ‘chimp’ brains as if it is an enemy – we need to befriend it and learn how to use it!
Like a commonly-walked path would eventually become a road, frequently used neural pathways also become stronger and faster, increasing capacity, eventually becoming completely automatic and subconscious, so that when faced with the danger you don’t have to waste precious time rationalising and debating whether to run, fight or freeze – you’ll automatically respond in a way that worked for our ancestors, and their predecessors. Reptiles and mammals evolved long before humans did – yet we still have the same reptilian and mammalian neural structures in our brains, and they are there because it helped us to respond to change in a way that would maximise our survival. We often forget the length of our evolution and the influence that it has on our actions today. The modern reasoning and rationality are still at the stage of conscious incompetence in comparison to the strengths of automatic and subconscious survival mechanisms. The sudden boom of industrial and technological revolution has created a very different way of thinking and responding to the modern environment as compared to the habits and behaviours that kept us safe in the predator-filled savanna.
But the work of billions of years of evolution cannot be undone in a century or two – if we set our goals with reason but act on it from our automatic neural structures, no wonder we are doomed to fail.
But let’s go back to our goals. If we assume that the statistics of 92% of the goals are being abandoned is true, then this still leaves 8% of people who actually DO achieve what they set to do.
So what makes the difference?
What is the difference between those who seem to have it all and those who are forever stressed, depressed and anxious?
What is the difference between those who can learn from their experience, grow with challenges and changes, and those who crumble when faced with the slightest obstacle?
What is the difference between those who are able to stick to their goals, and those who don’t?
According to Darwin, it is not the strongest nor the most intelligent that will survive, but the ones most adapted to change. Therefore, the only way to create success is by embracing and utilising the full potential of our brain to fit the changing needs of the modern environment, rather than denying it and allowing to execute savanna-lifestyle habits on autopilot. If you try to fight what worked for millions of years of evolution – you’ll never win. According to Oscar Wilde – ‘I can resist everything except temptation’.
So what does this mean in practice?
This means that people who are able to stick to their goals somehow have managed to find successful ways of utilising their reptilian and mammalian parts of the brain to serve the needs of the modern environment, harnessing a full potential of the brain.
How do they do it?
1 – first and foremost, by redefining their own boundaries of safety. What keeps you safe today is not what saved you from predator attack – respond differently and appropriately, even though the primal instinctive fear might be the same. Create conditions where it is safe to do mistakes.
2 – secondly, by establishing social support networks that allow us to take risks and try new things. The sense of belonging and knowing that you are doing the right thing for others can provide mental strength as well as access to different skills and physical resources.
3 – and third, by creating habits, routines, and rituals that allow them to operate successfully by tapping into the neural processes of oldest, and therefore the most efficient parts of our brain.
If you read biographies and interviews of successful people you will find the same underlying themes – fear and do it anyway, being comfortable with unknown, learning from mistakes, emphasis on surrounding themselves with the right people, and establishing their own habitual ways of doing things (such as unique morning routine, or the order in which you tackle your tasks).
It is interesting that most of the time those three rules are followed without conscious awareness – just like natural selection would prioritise what works, only by trial and error we replicate actions and processes that will give us desirable results.
Some of us are lucky enough to stumble upon it themselves.
Others seek guidance, training and coaching to replicate what works.
And the rest – are not able to stick to their goals and intentions, leading safe but mediocre lives where just OK is enough, and at the end of their journey regretting missed opportunities and wasted potential.
About the Author:
Evelina Dzimanaviciute is a Learning & Development Coach and Trainer translating neuroscience research into practical applications to enhance individual and corporate performance via tailored Organisational Development solutions, Leadership Training and Coaching.
Evelina’s experience in corporate leadership and training, as well as voluntary therapeutic work supporting the most vulnerable individuals with mental illnesses and suicidal tendencies raised the question about the difference between certain people who thrive and grow with challenges, while others crumble faced with very similar experiences, which led her to a decade of research and studies of social clinical and behavioural Psychology, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, NLP, Hypnotherapy, Coaching and Leadership Development. Her research extracted techniques and approaches used by the most successful people to learn from experience, process information, cope with external pressures and changes, and act on intentions to turn goals into reality with the help of applied neuroscience. You can learn those tools by attending 3-day MindBoost Course.
Evelina is running regular courses, workshops and events – please visit BeYourLight website or follow Facebook page for the event calendar. Evelina is an inspiring public and in-house speaker presenting on various topics of self-development, mindfulness, work-life balance, anxiety and stress, resilience and confidence, amongst many others.
If you would like to explore how L&D solutions and Leadership Training could help your business – complete an application form to book your complimentary discovery session.