A new calendar year signifies a fresh start and is often used by many to set new goals, realign their focus, and create “New Year’s resolutions.” However, few are actually able to keep their resolu...
A new calendar year signifies a fresh start and is often used by many to set new goals, realign their focus, and create “New Year’s resolutions.” However, few are actually able to keep their resolutions.
Surveys show that of those who make New Year’s resolutions, 75% are successful after one week, 64% are successful after a month, but 80% “fail” by the end of February. Dedicating two months of time to achieving a goal should not be considered a “failure,” but at Next Health, we believe you should have all the tools you need to reach your goal. Oftentimes, these tools can just be simple shifts in your daily schedule, mindset, or lifestyle.
Andrew D. Huberman, an American neuroscientist and tenured associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is a renowned and trusted leader in conversations around brain health and ways you can utilize your biology to work with you rather than against you when it comes to achieving your goals.
In setting you up for success in 2023, we have gathered some of Huberman’s key points that you can utilize to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to your New Year’s resolutions:
Resolutions often include starting a new hobby, new language, or something outside your natural skillset. The term for the brain learning in this way is neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning.
As Huberman explains, “The mental strain you feel when you’re learning something is the trigger for neuroplasticity for your brain to change. Neuroplasticity is a process of taking something where there’s a duration path and outcome — where I’m working hard. I’m thinking hard. Maybe it’s a hard conversation. Maybe it’s a business plan. Maybe it’s a scientific career. And the goal of neuroplasticity is to make things reflexive. So you don’t have to think about them.”
When you are in the mental state of expending effort, adrenaline epinephrine is released (a molecule that promotes alertness). A neuromodulator called acetylcholine is also released. As a “focus” molecule, acetylcholine helps “turn on” areas of the brain involved in learning and essentially preps these regions for change.
However, this “change,” that reflects the brain’s learning, does not occur when you are doing the activity. This change actually occurs when you are resting or recovering.
So, when you are overwhelmed and overworked, remember this:
“Neuroplasticity … has two parts. One is the trigger … In adults, it is triggered by focus and attention and even a heightened state of agitation. The more frustrated you feel, the more you’re actually triggering learning and saying, ‘this is important.’ The second part is deep relaxation … that’s when the connections between neurons called synapses actually get stronger. That’s when the connections that you don’t want, get removed.” - Andrew Huberman on The Science of a Success Mindset
In other words, feeling irritated when you are not accomplishing what you want is not only normal, but necessary to help your brain create the biological conditions needed for learning and the development of new pathways.
But don’t forget, the change your brain needs occurs during rest. This is in part because rest increases your serotonin levels, which are critical for being able to have the drive and energy to get back in the game. Huberman explains that this is the reason many go-getters get depressed and experience burnout:
“Dopamine is the molecule that makes us look at things outside the boundaries of our skin, to be in pursuit of things … serotonin is about feeling like we have enough in our immediate environment. And it’s so powerful because unless that serotonin box is check[ed] off periodically, we cannot lean back into the dopamine outward pursuit process for very long.”
How are you providing your body with quality rest? Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
In addition to regularly incorporating set periods of relaxation into your schedule to optimize your brain’s learning capabilities, you can also support a “frustration” or “burnout” work phase by incorporating a sense of fun into your goals. As Huberman states, “If you are in frustration and strain, a sense of play is great because in play, you have focus, [and] you have intention and alertness. It keeps you light enough that there’s that dopamine release … As adults, we tend to be more demanding of ourselves. We don’t tend to embrace as much play. … I think [play] is important because it’s a great way to learn dopamine release. And it’s a great way to expand one’s experience of life.”
This biological response explains learning a subject that you love is easier than studying one you don’t. When you’re having fun, learning increases and so does your quality of life. So, when it comes to your New Year’s resolutions, try enjoying them with a friend, listening to music while working, creating a fun space or environment for yourself, working outside in the sunshine, or adding whatever works for you to increase your levels of dopamine and keep your focus up.
Did you know that gratitude is scientifically proven to help make you healthier? Harvard Health Publishing has done extensive positive psychology research and found gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with not just greater happiness, but more positive emotions, improved health, improved ability to deal with adversity, and more strong relationships.
Huberman has discussed this phenomenon and articulates that this correlation is due to gratitude’s relation to serotonin release: “Gratitude sounds like complacency, and people fear that they’re not going to be persistent … but serotonin resets dopamine. [This reset] puts you back in the fight and allows you to fight longer and further.”
Note, “fight” in this context is not in reference to our “fight or flight” response, rather the challenge of working towards your individual goals.
Huberman elaborates by stating, “If you look at high-performers in these very high-risk/high-consequence special operations communities, they have gratitude practices and they incorporate them.”
In short, gratitude is not going to make you complacent, it’s going to give you the ability to work longer and harder by resetting your dopamine levels.
This goes back to the importance of a lifestyle or routine that recognizes that the balance of serotonin and dopamine is critical for the success of your body and your mind. By recognizing gratitude as an essential component of work, you are setting yourself up success.
How do you practice gratitude on a daily basis? Here are a couple of ideas you can incorporate into your routine:
Fortunately, your body is designed to work with you, not against you. Huberman often highlights the natural phase of our sleep-wake cycle and how we can improve our productivity by having a better understanding of our biology. During the first nine hours after you wake up (phase 1), dopamine, adrenaline, and healthy levels of cortisol are at their highest. These modulators bias your brain to “run” certain circuits over others. When dopamine and epinephrine are turning in your brain, you are better primed for math, organization, working out, planning, working an itinerary, and tackling situations where there is a “right answer.”
During phase 2, 10-17 after waking up, serotonin and other molecules kick in and your brain is much better at nonlinear thinking. In other words, you are primed for brainstorming, creativity, playing with ideas, and letting answers just “come” to you versus being super “lasered in.” This concept is what allows for “late-night creativity,” night owls may be familiar with.
Because we have this understanding of our biology, we can use this to our advantage when planning our day and working towards success. If you wake up at 7 am, until about 4 pm, it is advised to work on all your “to-do list items,” and work in a headspace of organization, focus, and alertness. From 4 pm on, your creativity starts to increase and that’s when you can play with new ideas, brainstorm new ways to tackle challenges, and have a more relaxed attitude towards whatever you’re working on.
As you can see, your biology is the basis for setting yourself up for success when it comes to achieving your goals, New Year’s resolutions, and beyond. In addition to structuring your day in a brain-friendly way, our medical experts also recommend taking a data-driven approach to your health to ensure there are no underlying issues holding you back.
Consider the Next Health Baseline Test, a starter panel that is a comprehensive overview of over 50 biomarkers in order to empower you to gain an accurate picture of your current state of health. Our medical experts will provide an in-depth review of your results and you will receive a personalized health optimization plan.
By resolving underlying issues and optimizing your health, you are empowered to be the best version of yourself, full of energy and vitality, and you are better equipped to take on any challenge.
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