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Retrain Your Brain For Maximum Success With New Year’s Resolutions

Self

As 2018 begins, many of us make New Year's resolutions. According to studies, the most common of these promises is to lose weight. We start off, guns blazing. We promise ourselves that we'll never eat a whole pizza or coffeecake again. We promise to work out extra-hard to blast those unwanted pounds away— and as a result, gyms and health clubs enjoy a sharp spike in their membership enrollment this time of year.


We're gung-ho! For a while. Then January turns to February, and soon it's June, and it's time to put on shorts or a swimsuit, but, sadly, the pounds remain right where we left them. Maybe we melted off a few inches, or even a dress-size, in those early months, but they've returned. Summer turns to fall, fall to winter, and next year, we make the same resolutions. With the same results.

As a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist, for over 30 years, I've devoted my practice to helping patients learn how to get to their desired weight, and maintain them for a minimum of seven years on average. The reason that many health and fitness New Year's resolutions generally don't work is that most people don't realize that a profound, authentic learning experience is required. It starts with honesty and new habit formation.

By honesty, I mean being honest with yourself in consciously recognizing everything you eat and do on a detailed level, but also realizing that much of the language around food, eating, weight-loss, exercise and fitness has a negative, punitive sting. If you're feeling desperate, you may be attracted to the idea of punishment. Desperation is the root of many New Year's resolutions, but the cold sweat of this brutality only motivates us for a short time. Soon, we burn out and return to our soothing, comforting old patterns, where we perceive ourselves with shame.

But know this: feelings of reward and success are far more enduring as forms of behavioral nourishment. They are a complete meal will give you a steady burn of strength and energy for much longer than a few weeks. Basing your New Year's vision on reward and success will allow you to create habits that can last a lifetime.

To get your body to look and feel the way you want it to requires that you literally change your mind, and retrain your brain with a few new, almost unnoticeable changes in habit to get the weight off and keep it off. A more trim, sleek shape begins in your head—train your brain and your body will follow! Think of it like learning how to more efficiently swing a tennis racket or golf club. Making a few minor adjustments in your posture and the way you hold the racket or club can make a world of difference in your swing, which can last you a lifetime.

Remember, to create habits with staying-power, you need to design your own individual eating plan, based on your own authentic likes, dislikes and experiences. Someone else's rigid diet or fitness regimen probably won't work for you, although you can get useful information and inspiration from them.

Ways to make your New Year's Resolutions a greater success:

1. Count to 21.

Neurologists and other scientists agree: new habits are formed in our human central nervous system in 21 days, based on daily repetition of the new behavior. This includes, for instance, quitting tobacco. Generally, if you get through 21 days of the new practice, the new habit is pretty securely set. This means you have a good chance of maintaining the new behavior indefinitely, even when compensating for occasional setbacks.

2. Set yourself up for an immediate win.

Complete an emotionally neutral activity every day for 21 days to set up a new reward pattern. Don't make highly stressful, dramatic changes in lifestyle. I suggest that you set a daily goal for yourself that isn't painful to deal with. Do it consistently every day for 21 days to set up a pattern of winning, success and reward in your brain and body. Examples: Commit to flossing your teeth twice a day, every day for 21 days. Or, commit to drinking a big glass of water every morning, even before coffee, every morning. Draw a big heart on each calendar day where you keep your promise to yourself. Give yourself credit for consistency— neurologically speaking, you've created a new habit by Day 22.

3. Apply your attitude of success to how you deal with food.

Begin applying this pattern of reward to how you eat. Begin by honestly observing and recording what you eat, when and why you eat. The goal is to change the behaviors that cement unwanted pounds on your body. Observe yourself, and note what you observe. This will allow you to plan your eating, and respond to food in different ways, to allow you to shed weight and keep it off successfully.

4. Create an authentic pattern for success which is unique to you.

This world is full of reformers, and many of them take a rough, Marine Corps-style approach. In fact, the “boot camp" metaphor is applied widely to all sorts of training and learning. This “boot camp" style has a moralistic, even menacing tone at times.

I take a more nurturing approach. Just as every child learns to speak, read, write, play, interact and so on in her or his individual way, you will do best with your weight management if you create a pattern that is authentic to you. Don't allow yourself to bullied by what other people say is right.

Don't say that you will never eat chocolate again. If chocolate is important to you, build it into your new habit. Accept it. Also, if chocolate is one of your personal favorites, prepare a coping plan when you encounter the random chocolate birthday cake at the office. Surprise! Have a practiced response in place to deal with the unexpected.

5. Food is not the enemy. So enjoy it.

Food issues are often lumped into the same therapeutic conversations as alcohol, cigarettes and addictive drugs. Our bodies cannot function without food. The same cannot be said for those other substances. Part of creating your self-management plan is remembering that food is here to serve our bodies. There is no shame in biting into something that tastes delicious, thrills our senses, fills our bellies, nourishes us on a cellular level, and gives us the opportunity to socialize with other human beings. To achieve and maintain your best weight, you don't need to hate food. You need to create a good relationship with it.

6. Your body is not the enemy. So cherish it.

People who have a history of struggling with weight may have ambivalence about their bodies. Creating new habits of reward and success around food can be deeply helpful when we want to release negative body-feelings and move on. In addition to creating new patterns around eating, use your self-management practice as the opportunity to appreciate your most essential physical self. Treat your body to a massage as often as you can. Moisturize your feet, heels, elbows and other areas of your skin you may typically overlook. Instead of a quick shower, try a luxurious, medium-warm bath with an aromatherapy soak.

7. Keep learning and adapting your food and exercise plan.

Although I advocate planning, this world is filled with unexpected surprises. I honestly think that the unexpected—a sudden thunderstorm, even—keeps us alert, alive, and always opening to experience. Surprises expand our awareness. So we need to be agile and flexible in our self-management.

You cannot control the world, and in fact, I'm not so sure any of us would want to. But, we can control how we respond.

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8min read
Politics

Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.


When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.