Sunday, April 19, 2009

This year I will... by MJ Ryan

Ever been to therapy? Has your therapist actually helped you solve your problem and made you more successful? Or was it just a bunch of talk? Well, MJ Ryan’s approach is much more focused on addressing the thing that is under your control – you – and working with you to change who you are. She is aware of the science and psychology that is out there on the subject of change, and her methods and advice try to harness these findings. The good thing about her approach is that you will either see changes in a few days, weeks and months, or you won’t. If not, move onto something else I suppose. But I imagine most folks will benefit from trying this approach for a period of time. Remember, we’re all a work in progress.


5 Stages of Change

Social scientists tell us that when we change a habit or follow a dream we go through 5 stages: precontemplation (when we don’t know that we want to change), contemplation (someday I’ll do that), preparation (I’ll get ready to do that soon), action (I’m starting do it), and maintenance (keep doing it until we get where we want).  P4


The other 55% are too drunk to try!

45% of us make New Year’s resolutions, but only 8% succeed…90% of heart patients don’t stick to their lifestyle changes they need to make in order to live longer. P5

 Scientists tell us that 90% of our daily lives is spent in routine… We don’t have to think about how to brush our teeth or tie our shoes or drive a car. That frees up our brain do something more interesting useful. P10 Let’s see if 90% of our waking lives is spent in routine and we are awake about 16 hours a day, that leaves about 1.6 hours for thinking. But then the avg person watches about 4 hours of TV per day. So how does that math work?


Get emotional about it

There are 3 things needed to make any change: desire, intent, and persistence… You’ll learn that the process isn’t about getting rid of bad habits, but building new, more positive ones… And because of the way your brain is wired, the most powerful thing you can do is to engage your emotional brain in a way that makes it easy, fun, and different. P6


Top 10 Resolution Pitfalls

  1. Being vague about your wants
  2. Not making serious commitments
  3. Procrastinating and excuse making instead of acting
  4. Being unwilling to go through the awkward phase
  5. Not setting up a tracking and reminder system
  6. Expecting perfection, falling into guilt, shame, regret
  7. Trying to go it alone
  8. Telling yourself self limiting rut stories
  9. Not having backup plans
  10. Turning slip ups to give ups


Getting Clear on what you truly want

  1. Write every goal you’d like to accomplish in the next 20 years. Write as fast as possible.
  2. Write beside each one the number of years it will take to reach each goal (1, 5, 10, 20)
  3. Circle the top 4 1 year goals you want the most
  4. Write down the things you may need to do – that you don’t want to in order to make these goals happen
  5. Choose the goal that you are willing to do the hard things for


Nonsequitur: How to do the laundry

The scientifically proven best way to do laundry: fill the machine with water first, then soap, then clothes. P17 

Anger is really a cry for help, you big fat baby!

Losing your temper is a sign that some unexpressed need is not being met, and that you are not in touch with your feelings. Trying to control your anger is treating the symptom, come to believe that it is reasonable to have wants and that it is OK to express them. The more you express your wants and needs, the less likely you are to get mad. None of us are doing what we’re doing because we’re bad. We just don’t know any other way to handle our fear, our loneliness, our need to say no. p23

Turns out you really are a big fat baby mammal

Your limbic, mammalian brain isn’t very smart. It understands pleasure, pain, safety, danger. It propels us towards pleasure and away from pain. It triggers the flight or fight response… If the change you’re trying to make seems like it is too scary, too hard or no fun, your limbic brain is going to work against it. So what you’re looking for is easy, fun, new and different. P28

Virtual reality is real after all

A few minutes a day, vividly picture the neural circuitry in your brain for the new behavior growing inside your head. Imagine new bridges being built that make it easy for you to be optimistic or eat right, or take life in stride… This envisioning uses the capacity of the mind to physiologically create the images we focus on. You can actually create new circuits by thinking strongly about them. P29


What if I just imagined winning the gold and just stayed in bed this morning? Its cold!

In a famous study of Olympic skiers, one group did their normal training, and the other didn’t ski at all. Rather they vividly imagined themselves making every run correctly.  When it came time to compete, the imaginers skied better… How does this work? It turns out that if the process is vivid enough the brain doesn’t differentiate between imagining doing something and actually doing it. Either way our neurons are firing that particular sequence, making it easier to do it again. P128

We’re all dopamine junkies

When you do something new and challenging, your brain rewards you by releasing a feel good hormone dopamine. If it involves taking some kind of risk, like public speaking, you’ll also get a boost of epinephrine, another feel good chemical. So once you get into action, you’ve got chemistry on your side. P32

Cool it before you regret it

When our emotional brain feels so afraid, it wrests control of our thinking, and sends us into flight or fight. In this state we end up doing or saying all kinds of things we regret later… It takes up to 30 minutes and up to 24 hours for the stress hormones to subside and our thinking brain to reengage. P35

Don’t try to think about negative thoughts. Oh crap I just did it too!

Psychologists have discovered that trying to consciously remove a negative mental image or habit actually reinforces it. That’s because if you give yourself a command such as ‘Don’t think of donuts’, there’s actually a part of the brain is trying to obey by constantly scanning “Oh, you’re thinking about donuts now? How about having one!?”, which of course results in you constantly thinking about the very thing you’ve vowed not to. But if you create a positive image of what you want to go toward, that’s what the brain begins scanning for instead. Finding a positive motivation also engages your emotional brain to work for the change, not against it… Don’t run away from smoking, but towards a longer life. Not fear, but courage. Not loneliness, but someone special. Get it? P39


1 week after it starts is the best time to quit

A study noted that it is much easier for women to stop smoking within 10 days after the 3rd day of their period than any other time of the month. Only 25% relapse, compared to 75% who stop at other times (proving that there must be some relationship between cravings and hormones). P46 Hmm, could this also be the best time for ladies to quit other addictions, the best time to dump a boyfriend, or to learn a new habit?


Are you being framed?

Frames are mindsets that structure how we think and how we process facts. When we are presented with facts we need to make sense of them; they have to fit into what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise the facts go in and then they go back out. Frames are stories we tell ourselves about life that confirmed over and over because we filter out any conflicting facts… Frames can be your friend or foe. Self defeating frames will lead you to repeat negative patterns. I know a woman whose mind set is that men are not to be counted on. And guess what? Her story keeps coming true. She interprets all behavior as proof that she is right. p51


Just act like it

If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves. A bit of brain science may help here. When you ask why, you’re engaging your analytical thinking left brain, which is focused on the present: the information that tells me why I am the way I am today. It is a data gathering function… But to change something or to bring something new into being, you must engage your right brain, where innovative thinking happens. The right brain is future oriented. This part doesn’t care about what you’ve done, in fact it’s energized by newness and bored by routine… In preparing for change, allow your right brain to help you. Ask ‘What’ questions rather than ‘Why’ questions. What can I do to have more balance in my life? Rather than, Why I am a workaholic? One leads to rumination and stuckness, and the other to creative possibilities and momentum. P56


Believe in yourself

The effect of self confidence on goal achievement has been highly researched – over 6000 studies since 1976. It has been found to be a significant (and often the single most significant) factor in success in relationships, work, musical performances, sports… How come? Self confidence keeps the emotional brain out of fight of flight fear. P60


Not self confident enough? Write 4 to 6 accomplishments of yours. Write down what YOU did. Write down the strengths and skills you used repeatedly to create these successes. These are your competencies that you can apply to ANY goal. P61


I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost over 300 games. On 26 occasions, I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot… and missed. And I have failed over and over again in my life. And that’s why I succeed – Michael Jordan


We all make mistakes, but some make the grave mistake of not admitting that.

Would be neurosurgeons were studied to determine who would succeed and who would fail. The researcher discovered that the answer came down to how they responded to the following 2 questions: Do you ever make mistakes? If so, what’s the worst you ever made? Those who flunked claimed to never make mistakes, or attributed error to things beyond their control. Successful students admitted to many mistakes, and described what they had learned about avoiding them in the future. P66


Ask yourself ‘Will doing this make me feel good or help me achieve my goal?” when confronting something negative. Then figure out ‘What response would bring me the greatest peace?’ This will allow you to let things go that normally would have upset you, and to respond in more thoughtful ways. P88


Why we ceremonialize important changes in our lives

When we declare “I’m going to do this…” and back it up with some kind of ceremony, we engage our whole brain. Stating the intention is a left brained activity; it’s logical and analytic. Expressing the intention in a ceremony engages our right brain, where images and symbols reside. With both sides activated, we’re more likely to succeed. P89


One man’s secret to happiness: he asks himself “How can I live so that tomorrow is a great day?” It helps him focus on what he truly wants, and he wakes up in a more positive frame of mind. P90


The 3 zones of existence

There are 3 zones of existence; comfort, stretch, and stress. Stretch is where change occurs. It’s where you feel awkward, but not so stressed that learning is impossible. These zones are moving targets, so remember that if what you’re doing doesn’t feel at least somewhat weird to you, you haven’t gone far enough out of the comfort zone. Getting into the stretch zone is good for you. It helps keep your brain healthy… Continuously stretching will even help us lose weight. Researchers who asked folks to do something different each day – listen to a new radio station – found that they lost and kept off weight. Scientists speculate that getting out of routines makes us more aware in general. P109


Can't you wait just ½ a second?

Scientists tell us that the amount time between impulse and action is a .5 second.  We really don’t give it any thought. We’ve got our hand in the cookie jar, the liquor to our lips, the insult hurled at our spouse in a blink. To counteract this you must become aware of your impulses BEFORE you act on them… A recent study showed that simply by thinking about what you ate for lunch when having an impulse for an afternoon snack resulted in a 14lb weight loss… How do you become aware? You’ll absolutely need some kind of reminder from the outside. Not because you’re weak but because your habits are so strong. Use post it notes on the fridge and liquor that say “The answer is not here.”. Put a note on your steering wheel that says ‘What am I grateful for right now?’, ask a friend to email you every day asking ‘What have you done to advance your business idea today?’ Also temptation proof your environment. Get rid of junk food, credit cards, or anything that reminds of your old bad habits. This also means avoiding people and places associated with indulging. The body develops a physical response to the environments it was in when your indulged. P121


Umm, I'll choose 5?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would rate your commitment on this item?

This is a trick question. There is no ½ way on commitment. Either you are or you aren’t.

Ask yourself this question: if people were watching you, how would they know that you’re committed? P127


The 3 types of learning

There are 3 types of learning; prehoc, adhoc, and posthoc. Posthoc is most common, it is when you realize something after the fact, and how to do it differently the next time. Ad hoc, is when your realize you need to do something differently while it is happening. Prehoc, is when you’ve learned it before hand, and can use it immediately when the occasion arises. To get to prehoc, you must proceed through posthoc and adhoc learning. Thus, recognition that you’ve failed (posthoc) is a key first step in any change process requiring new learning. P132


Homeostasis; the enemy of change

Psychologists explain that the brain will accept new information only if it doesn’t jeopardize or harm the coherence the brain is trying to maintain. When we try to make changes that are too aggressive, our system tries to maintain the status quo by swinging in the opposite direction. This is why strict diets don’t work. P142


You are your worst enemy

Imagine you say that you want to find a long term relationship and have had no success. It’s not that you’re not committed to finding a relationship. It’s that you’re more committed to something else that contradicts your stated desire but that you believe protects you in some way. You may be more committed to not getting hurt than having a relationship. And beneath that commitment is an underlying assumption that is driving your behavior; for instance, if I’m alone, I’m safe; if I’m with someone I’ll get hurt. You fail to get what you think you want because you haven’t gotten to the bottom of it all. P155


Getting to your core assumptions

  1. State your commitment
  2. What’s keeping you from achieving this commitment?
  3. What are you afraid would happen if you changed your behavior to prevent the items in question 2 from happening?
  4. Are you protecting yourself by doing the things in item 2?
  5. State what are your now revealed countercommitments
  6. What is the core assumption behind each countercommitment. To get at it, what would be so bad if you gave up your countercommitment?


Science confirms the power of the imperfect. Studies have shown that dieters who deal constructively with a lapse are more likely to lose weight and keep it off than those who beat themselves up after a mistake. P174


Treat it all as practice

The more we practice, the better we get. So failure is a kind of practice. The average smoker quits 4 to 6 times before succeeding. But practicing only works if we stop shaming ourselves, and start paying attention to what the lapse can teach us about improving our success the next time. P174


Self Apology

  1. Acknowledge the commitment that wasn’t kept
  2. Describe the consequences of the breach
  3. What was the context of the breach – without blaming
  4. What will restore trust


Surf's up. Lets all go urge surfing!

Scientists tell us that on average cravings attack 4 to 7 times a day and last only seconds… You don’t have to act on them. They simply arrive and at some point they will disappear. The more we pay attention to the process of rising and passing, the less hooked we are by the content of the our thoughts and feelings. Addiction experts call this ‘urge surfing’… As soon as you become aware of a strong sensation, rather than ignore or indulge it, pay more attention to it… You must differentiate between thoughts, images, feelings, and sensations. “I want a coke” is a thought. Desperation is a feeling. The picture of a cold coke in your hand is the image. The sensation is the hot tingly feeling in your throat waited to be slaked. Give the sensation the kind of curious attention you would give someone you’d just met and were intrigued with. P182


Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny. – Mahatma Gandhi


12 Tips for keeping your promises

1. Make it non-negotiable

Promise that you are going to do it. Not when, how, or where – just that you will do it.


2. Make it actionable

Goals must be translated into actions and verbs. To succeed you must know what actions you’re going to take.


3. Have solutions for your usual excuses

What got in your way in the past? Forgetting, losing interest, not knowing how to begin. What rationalizations did you use when you quit in the past? It doesn’t matter, it’s not that bad, it’s too hard. Create strategies in advance to deal with these excuses.


4.     Use procrastination to your advantage

60% of the population is pressure prompted, and take as long as possible before being forced into action by some external deadline. If you’re one these, create real deadlines with consequences (like losing money or face) to pressure prompt you into action.


5.     Schedule it in

Put into your calendar schedule if it is important, especially early on to give it a chance of becoming a habit.


6.     Do it daily

If you want to create new, good habit, then you need to do a little of it every day.


7.     Monitor your behavior

Research shows that when you monitor your behavior in writing, you’re more likely to do better.


8.     Focus on the horizon

Look at how far you’ve come, not how much you have left to do. Scientists call this the horizon effect. It creates encouragement and builds determination.


9.     Take it one choice at a time

Our lives are constructed one moment at a time, many of which we are not fully aware of. Bring your choices to your consciousness. Ask if you are choosing the right thing at the right time for your goals. If not, choose differently. The more you focus on positive choice that you can make today, without worrying about forever in the future, the more you will live yourself into the new habit.


10.  Find someone who’s doing what you want, and imitate them

Babies learn by imitation, so why not adults? Most people love to teach if given the opportunity, so don’t be afraid to tell someone that you find their habits and accomplishments worthy of tutelage.


11.  Teach it someone else

A great way to cement a habit is to become a mentor (and karmically return the favor for point 10).


12.  Treat yourself kindly

Treat ourselves with kindness, and don’t collapse into shame or guilt but try again with greater wisdom for having faltered.







1 comment:

David Cane said...


This recent book is fantastic...what great information, the perfect balance between the technical and emotional dimensions. For many, a better understanding of the brain's functionality will help them move to the next level of engaging the emotional side and reap the benefits of an increased quality of life.

If you have an opportunity, please take a look at my book "The Short Book on Happiness: Transform Your Life in 10 Days," -- I do believe you will find it interesting. For a sense of the content, my interview on Ennyman's blog can be found at:

David Cane