If you’re like most people, every year, as the clock strikes midnight on December 31, you probably imagine that you’ll wake up ready to tackle the New Year. You make promises to yourself, commitments to others, and in general, begin with the optimistic outlook that this year will be the year you tackle growth and change.
At Kwik Brain, we talk a lot about setting goals. How to set a S.M.A.R.T. goal, questions to ask before you set a goal, the 3 M’s of goal setting, and setting goals so that you’ll keep them. But we also talk about how many times you encounter unexpected obstacles that end up holding you back and prevent you from reaching your limitless potential. These limitations are often buried in your daily habits, and sometimes are such a deeply entrenched part of your daily behavior, you may stop recognizing them as being harmful to your growth.
Before you set goals or decide to make significant change in your life, it’s important to look at the things that might end up being roadblocks. This year, take a look at these five behaviors to stop and practice replacing them with healthy habits instead.
It’s okay to vent from time to time. After all, holding in negative emotions is just as unhealthy as letting them take over. But one thing to consider is how frequently you’re complaining throughout your day.
When you’re complaining, you’re actually training your brain to pay attention to the negative events around you. Your brain is primarily a filtration device and it is constantly working to filter out all the thousands of stimuli in your environment. For example, have you ever noticed that whenever you buy a new car or a new phone, all of a sudden, you start seeing it everywhere? That’s because an area in your brain—the reticular activating system—registered that new object as important and stopped filtering it out of your conscious awareness.
That’s why it’s so important to be aware of when you’re complaining and how often you’re doing it. Every time you vent to a coworker about your boss, you’re training your RAS to notice more ways your boss irritates you. If you complain about things being wrong with your car or house, you’ll notice that more things are wrong everywhere you look.
The first step is to nail down how often you’re complaining and what you’re complaining about. Start writing down whenever you’re complaining or feel the urge to complain. Did your lunch come with onions when you specifically asked for it not to? Write it down. But because you want to train your brain to notice positivity rather than negativity, write down three things about your lunch that you liked.
It’s not that you want to ignore when you’re unhappy. But often, you’re unhappy because you’re choosing to focus on the negative rather than the positive. It might be that your boss is unreasonable and your job is no longer a good fit. But if you’re mired in only seeing the negative, you won’t ever be able to identify why you’re unhappy in your job, and that might lead to you staying because you think you just don’t like your boss.
On top of adding a positive perspective to help alleviate any complaints you have throughout the day, it’s important to develop a habit of gratitude. Start a gratitude journal and note three things you’re grateful for at the beginning and end of each day. This helps you start the day with an attitude of gratitude, and will likely help you identify more positive observations throughout the day. And by ending your day with gratitude, you go to sleep focusing on the things that bring you joy rather than cycling worries, complaints, and other negative thoughts that can keep you awake and disrupt your sleep cycles.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today.” And while it’s good advice, there are a lot of reasons you might put off tasks. Maybe you work full-time only to come home to kids with a full extracurricular schedule. Dinner has to get made, homework needs to be checked, and at the end of the night, doing those dishes is the last thing on your priority list.
Earlier this year, we had Ed Mylett as a guest on our podcast to talk about the power of doing just one more thing. At a glance, doing one more thing may not sound like a lot. But this is about pushing through what you believe your limits are and going beyond them. You’ve likely heard us say, if you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them. It might not seem like putting off small chores or tasks is fighting for a limitation, but it’s the mindset and habit you want to be aware of. If you are absolutely at your limit, don’t take on more. But if you can push yourself to get one more task done every day, there is power in strengthening your mindset and getting in the habit of achieving your small tasks on a daily basis.
When you find yourself not wanting to do something, or talking yourself out of it, take a moment and look at why. Identifying where the resistance is can help you figure out why you’re putting things off. You might not have a specific reason for not completing the task, it might be a time management issue, where you’re spending too much time on social media or watching a show. In that case, put time limits on your screen times. Or, you can use screen time as a reward for getting things done. There is always a reason behind why you’re procrastinating, and if you can find it, you can overcome that obstacle and become more productive in all areas of your life.
Another thing to look at is your approach. It’s a common mistake to look at the big picture when looking at not just goals, but your day. If your to-do list has bigger projects on it—like clean the house—that can feel overwhelming and doesn’t give you a sense of accomplishment along the way. Instead, break things down to the smallest possible task and write that down. On the surface, cleaning the house turns from one checkmark into a dozen items or more. But you’ll be able to check those smaller tasks off quickly and build momentum. You’ll also be able to identify which items are the most important and can do those first. Even if you don’t accomplish everything on the list, you’ll still feel a sense of satisfaction and achievement, which helps increase your confidence and self-esteem, which then propels you to continue doing more the next day and the next day and so on.
This extends beyond getting more tasks done throughout your day. Do you put off vacations because the timing just isn’t right? Or maybe you don’t sign up for that fitness class or ceramic course because the kids come first, or you just don’t have time, or maybe next year you’ll have more money to spend on hobbies. These are all perfectly legitimate reasons to not do these things, but if you aren’t recharging your own energy stores, you risk burn out, and that is far more detrimental to your health and happiness.
You may have heard the saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Whenever you compare yourself to someone else, you’re robbing yourself of the chance to see your own journey independently of others. It doesn’t matter how far anyone else is, or what they’re doing. What matters is what you’re doing and how far you’re going.
There’s a parable about a Chinese farmer working the field and his horse runs away. His neighbor laments, “what terrible luck”, to which the farmer replies, “maybe”. The next day the horse returns bringing seven wild horses with him. The neighbor is astounded and replies, “what great fortune. But the farmer only says, “maybe”. When his son tries to break one of the wild horses, he falls and breaks his leg. The neighbor again expresses the bad luck, to which the farmer continues with his stoic, “maybe” reply. When soldiers try to recruit his son for the war, his broken arm keeps him from fighting.
As you can see, perspective is reality. The farmer could have looked at events as good or bad, but sometimes they can be both. Bad events in your life can end up leading to the fantastic opportunity, and vice versa. But if you’re caught up analyzing and comparing what others are doing, you might miss the gifts being presented in your own life. Looking from the neighbor’s perspective, he could compare his fortune or lack thereof based on the farmer’s circumstance. But the events that took place after each judgement of good or bad fortune varied. Rather than spending that time worrying about what the neighbor is doing, the farmer simply went about his daily life with no expectation of what comes next.
Comparing yourself to others has a similar effect on your brain as complaining does. It trains your brain to focus on everything that is lacking in yourself and gives you a false belief structure in how other people are living their lives. This perspective can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, which can be extremely damaging to your body and brain.
On the other hand, using someone as a barometer to measure your progress can be useful—even motivating. There was a time when the medical community believed running a mile faster than four minutes was physically impossible. No one had done it, and doctors believed that if anyone tried, their heart would explode from the effort. Until Roger Bannister did it. On May 6, 1954, Bannister ran a mile in three minutes and 59.4 seconds. And after that, athletes all over the world began breaking that four minute barrier.
When you find yourself comparing your life, your progress, or your abilities to someone else, take a look at how you’re framing the comparison. Is it that they’re better than you and you’ll never be that good? Or is it to measure your own progress? Competition can be healthy, but if it’s impeding your own progress, self-worth, and happiness, you need to shift your perspective.
No one’s life is all good or all bad, so when you start to feel that way, get in the practice of finding the good in your own life. What are you good at? What are you excelling at or making progress in? Celebrate your wins to help your brain reinforce the positivity. This is a great thing to get in the habit of doing daily. Start with three goals in the morning, and at the end of the day, write down three wins and three things to improve on. You want to always be looking forward, but recognizing how far you’ve come helps build momentum so you can grow.
This one might sound a little odd, but the truth is, you might be saying yes to too many things or to the wrong things. One of the first areas this shows up in is over scheduling. You might jam pack your schedule or agree to events out of guilt or fear of missing out (FOMO). Or maybe you feel like you’re letting people down if you say no.
These feelings are perfectly legitimate, and we’re not advocating that you stop saying yes entirely in 2023. What we’re encouraging instead is to take a moment to pause and ask yourself: is this a HECK YES situation. Maybe you have to work overtime on an important project. That would be a heck yes. Or, you know there is no way you’re missing out on a loved ones wedding. Your gut will tell you if you want to do something almost immediately. And sometimes, even if you don’t want to, you have to. But in situations where it’s a choice, be aware of if you aren’t getting that heck yes feeling. It’s okay to take some time and reflect on whether this is something you truly want to do, or something you’d rather skip.
If you find yourself hesitating because you’re worried you’re going to miss out on something, change your perspective and embrace JOMO—the joy of missing out. What are some things you could do to recharge your energy stores and take care of you instead of going to dinner? Maybe you could take a long bath and soak your stress away. Or read that new bestseller you’ve been dying to pick up. Remember that you only have so many hours in the day, and what you choose to fill your time with is important. Are you taking care of yourself on multiple levels? Or are you catering to those around you?
This extends to family and the home front as well. If you’re the only one doing a majority of the household tasks, take a look at what you’re saying yes to—even if it’s a silent yes. You’ve likely heard the saying, actions speak louder than words, and in this case, if everyone in your life knows you’ll do what they don’t want to, you’re agreeing with them by doing it. Setting boundaries is a healthy way to start saying no, and when you do, you’ll find that you have time to say yes to more things that replenish and rejuvenate you.
Boundaries can be difficult to initially establish, so it’s important to start small. You don’t want to alienate people in your life or risk losing your job. Instead of saying no to everything overnight, start with one thing and move forward from there. People might pressure you to change your mind, but stay firm. Focus on the things you want to do. Saying yes to what you love and enjoy will become easier over time, and you’ll end up happier and healthier in all areas of your life.
You can always find a reason to do or not do anything. But the truth is, most of the time, those reasons are nothing more than elaborate excuses. This might sound a bit harsh, but that doesn’t make it less true. Sometimes, in order to grow, you have to leave the comfort zone, and that means taking a look at some habits and behaviors that are deeply engrained in your daily life.
Whenever you find yourself making an excuse in place of doing something, ask yourself why. Why don’t you want to do the activity? Maybe you can’t go on vacation because you don’t have time off work and you don’t have enough money saved. Those are very good reasons for putting off a vacation, but those could also be excuses holding you back. Obviously, you aren’t going to magically make more money or talk your employer into more time off, but by evaluating your past actions you might be able to find ways to change your behavior so that you can save money and plan ahead.
This means going one step beyond the excuse to become solution oriented. The excuse is simply an indicator. To become limitless, you have to push beyond the symptom and get to the root cause of the problem. Maybe you’re not a morning person and that’s why don’t exercise. But then you’re often too tired after work. If you truly want to get in better physical health, you have to find a solution that works for you. That might mean exercising on your lunch break. Or waking up ten minutes early and doing a five minute high-intensity interval training workout. It could mean parking at the top of the garage and taking the stairs, or at the back of the parking lot whenever you park.
No matter what your goal, there will always be both a limitation (excuse) and a solution. When you dig deep and ask yourself why you want to do something and what is holding you back, you’ll likely see both come to light. You’re not going to be perfect, and that’s okay. Sometimes you truly will simply be too tired, and you won’t push beyond the excuse. But if you get in the habit of becoming solution oriented, you’ll discover that you start seeing potential everywhere and you’ll start moving beyond what you think is possible, and unlocking your limitless potential.
Instead of setting a goal and then letting it drift away, this New Year, take some time to look at some ways your daily habits could get in the way. It’s easier to stop a bad habit when you have something to replace it with. Stop fighting for your limitations and unlock your limitless life—this year and every year.