Why You're Likely to Forget Your Goals
Updated: Mar 20, 2018
It's a universal desire to want to be the best versions of ourselves. We make plans, and vow to change that undesirable behaviour we keep repeating, and sometimes we even make goals, write them out, and stick them somewhere where we will see them daily.
It's easy to want, and dream, plan and even commit. What's hard is to stick with it.
You know it, and I know it- your desire to stop binge eating, or snacking out of boredom, your desire to exercise, go for daily walks, eat foods you know are healthy... it's hard.
Most people assume they are vitally flawed in the willpower department, or their saboteur is out to get them. Most people blame themselves for not being able to stick to goals, or not being strong enough, but I've got news- it's not your fault.
Daily life, habits and routines, perspectives and thoughts have momentum, and that momentum from the years, months, weeks, and days prior to initiating change in your life, is maintained. Think of it like physics. It's hard to stop that ball once it's rolling.
The way the brain works is to maintain what it currently knows to be safe and working for us. As far as our survival instincts know, we haven't died, nothing terrible threatens us in our daily lives, we're accessing rich food and water and shelter and sleep. What could possibly need fixing? And so the brain holds tight- it assumes that maintaining what you're currently doing is in its best interest.
Most of what we do in a day is regulated by the lower part of our brain which makes unconscious choices based on the past, memories, patterns, cues, and conditioning, stemming from a desire for survival. This part of the brain also works on 'auto-pilot' as you make your morning tea/coffee, shower, get dressed, brush your teeth, lock the door, walk, drive your car, work, lay on the sofa, watch Netflix, scroll Facebook, and generally maintain the structure of your life. This part also works without conscious decision making- so when the smell of baked goods wafts through the room, your brain gets a hit of feel-good chemicals and sends signals to convince you to eat. This unconscious part of the brain can make or break us- maintaining our good habits or maintaining our bad ones.
When your goal is to stop eating sweets, that desire comes from the upper, or higher brain- the one that makes conscious decisions, the one that holds your true desires, the one that plans and decides and makes new choices, that houses willpower and impulse control. But this part of the brain also takes a lot of energy to assess, make choices, navigate new things. It's hard to always be conscious and it's more efficient for the brain to do what it has always done so as not to work this higher energy-consuming part too much. So though you may want to stop eating sweets, if given a chance, the lower part of your brain is going to convince you to just do what's familiar, even if that means sending thoughts out such as "I'll start my goal tomorrow. It won't hurt if I just eat one cookie here. But my friend made these cookies and will feel disappointed if I don't eat one. Why did I want to stop eating sweets anyway? Maybe if I just don't eat sweets in my house, and then I can eat them when I'm out." That voice is not your higher brain. That voice is the lower brain, maintaining what it knows, trying to convince you not to change.
So why am I telling you this? Not to make you feel disheartened, or make you feel like it's pointless to even try. It's to let you know that it's not you! You're not to blame. You know what you want, you are committed to your goals, you have a desire to live your best life, and choose what makes you happy and healthy and fulfilled. But your lower brain doesn't get this message.
So now what? Here's the best way to start. Read this blog post again. Fully accept that you're not at fault for forgetting your goals, leaving them behind, or convincing yourself that they're not that important. Have compassion for yourself. Bring in more awareness to this idea. Notice the difference between your two brains- the one that wants change and the one that doesn't. Get to know the lower brain, listen in to its convincing voice, write down what it says, ride out the waves of pressure it puts on you, and always come back to your higher goals. Brainwash yourself (and your lower brain) that your higher goals are the true you. Read them, write them, speak them, sing them. Don't let them get lost in the momentum of life. What you want is worthy, valid and true. And the more compassion you have for the challenge of acquiring new habits, the more you'll support yourself. And the more you support yourself, the prouder you'll be when you stay aware and awake. And the more you do that, the more choices you'll make that are in line with your highest intentions.
Do the work. Come back to what you know is true. Stay aware. Have compassion. Repeat.