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Brain Training

3 REASONS YOUR BRAIN LOVES CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

Christmas is a time of year many look forward to all year. Streets light up and decorations bring a fun and festive spirit everywhere you go. It’s a time for celebrating with family and friends, for laughing over hot cocoa, wearing ugly sweaters while ice skating, and for exchanging gifts. But as the preparations build, you may notice your feelings also going through transformations, too.

Many people attribute this happier state to a phenomenon known as Christmas Brain. But does the holiday change your brain compared to the rest of the year? Turns out, it does. With the holiday creeping closer to the chimney (with care), we wanted to give you a reason (or three) that the season might make your brain so jolly and bright.

1- The helper’s high 

The idea of a helper’s high came about in the 1980s. Since then, steady research continues to uphold the initial findings. Turns out, there’s a reason Santa’s elves are always singing and smiling while they work.

When you are involved in the act of giving, your brain lights up like a Christmas tree. And Christmas is the time for giving. When you see your gift received with joy, the brain releases dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin, along with activating the emotional amygdala and the empathetic insula. Same when you engage in other giving behaviors like volunteering or donating to the less fortunate. It all triggers this feel-good effect.

Generosity activates the reward circuit in your brain releasing the neurochemicals associated with happiness and wellbeing. Dopamine increases your motivation and confidence, endorphins reduce your stress and improve your mood, and serotonin improves your sleep, memory, learning, and appetite. This combination incentivizes your brain to continue to engage in giving activities. The best part is, you can tap into this helper’s high anytime of year!

2- The Christmas spirit network

Some people seem to have Christmas on the brain. It turns out, they literally do. Researchers found that people who actively celebrate the holiday have pronounced reactions in their brains. Further, it isn’t simply engaging in those celebrations that activates your brain, simply talking about your annual traditions or viewing images that remind you of Christmas induces the same effects.

In 2015, a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen performed a study with twenty participants. Ten celebrated Christmas and ten didn’t. They all had an FMRI scan of their brains while they were shown holiday imagery. Researchers found increased activity in the sensory motor cortex, the premotor cortex and primary motor cortex, and the parietal lobules in the people who celebrated Christmas.

This Christmas spirit network plays a pivotal role in spirituality, facial recognition and memory, body sensations, and interpreting emotions. They activate sensations along with memories, which then trigger the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. These are the areas that are typically connected with self-transcendence and spirituality, social bonding-sharing behavior, and recognition of facial emotion. This means, your brain literally has a Christmas Network that gets especially activated during this time of the year.

3- The cuddle effect

Christmas is often associated with spending time and reconnecting with the people you care about. Most people get time off from work or school, and whether you travel or stay home, it’s common to spend more time with your friends and families. This feeling of togetherness prompts the brain to release the hormone oxytocin, otherwise known as the cuddle hormone.

Oxytocin is responsible for the warm fuzzy feelings associated with all the varieties of love. The more time you spend with people you love, the more this feeling of trust and intimacy grows because it prompts your brain to produce more oxytocin. It’s connected to trust, empathy, and intimacy. This means, being close to your family and friends during this time reinforces their bond with you and their significance in your life. And because these are tied with your memories, thinking about the holidays can release oxytocin in your brain, making you crave time with friends and family.

The Happiness Trifecta

Together, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin is called ‘The Happiness Trifecta’. These are the brain chemicals that drive happiness in your brain. And Christmas can send these neurochemicals on overdrive.

But there are also people for whom Christmas is not all fun and games. It can bring significant amount of problems, too. 

Planning and arranging the festivities can cause severe anxiety and stress, especially if you’re trying to manage the added work to an already busy and overloaded schedule. If you’re struggling with grief or dealing with mental health conditions, this time of year can be especially difficult.

Beat the festive blues

If you’re stressing out, or unhappy during this time, here are a few tips to beat the festive blues.

  • Plan ahead. Don’t wait for last minute sales and do your shopping well ahead of time. Send out invites and make the necessary booking arrangements as early as possible. This will ensure you have at least a blueprint of your schedule and plans ready before things start, and you’ll be relatively stress-free.
  • Don’t go overboard with your budget. The Christmas spirit is about generosity and not about how expensive or spectacular your gifts or arrangements are. Make a budget and stick to it. It will actually save you a great deal of stress in the long run.
  • Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. You don’t have to do everything alone. Involve your friends and family in the preparation instead of treating them as guests. You’ll have a great deal more fun, and your workload too will decrease.
  • Process your grief and trauma. If you are depressed or grieving, repressing those emotions may do more harm to your brain. Be gentle with yourself. Remember to be kind to yourself and ease the pressure you put on yourself during this time of year.

Conclusion

Christmas is a holiday that looks different for everyone. Celebrations can be big or small, religious or secular. The festivities are time for your brain to unwind and relax. And engaging in giving can help get your happy hormones going, helping you feel motivated and cheerful even if you find yourself doing more. No matter how you decide to celebrate, just remember to embrace your Christmas cheer. Your brain will thank you.

The Neurology of Healthy Boundaries

One of the things that can often become blurred throughout your life are boundaries. You might allow your boss or a coworker get away with asking you to complete unnecessary tasks in order to be a team player. Or let you child have extra screen time or a sugary snack because you’re busy, tired, or distracted. Maybe it’s family that tends to push you, or friends who take just a little more than they give. That’s where healthy boundaries come in.

To put it simply, boundaries are the lines you set internally that create personal space between you and the rest of the world. You can imagine it like a fence surrounding you, or a series of fences. Each one should have a gate. This allows you to let people move closer to your internal world but that also firmly keep others out. Like any good fence, they should be able to breathe. You don’t want them to be too rigid, or they might break under pressure. But what does that look like in practice? And what do healthy boundaries look like in the brain?

Boundaries and the Brain

Your brain is wired to respond to your environment—both internal and external. And boundaries are the practices that help regulate this response. They allow you the distance to protect your mental and emotional well-being. But unlike other primal instincts driving the brain, boundaries can be a bit tricky. Because your brain is also primed to seek social connection and maintain group cohesion. That’s why it can be difficult to determine if agreeing to work late is upholding the social balance we all need to survive, or if it’s doing more damage than good.

When faced with a situation that requires an internal boundary, your brain goes through several decision-making processes. That might sound logical on the surface, but before you get anywhere near logic, your amygdala lights up. The amygdala is your emotional processing center. This is what controls your fight-or-flight response. And while being asked to work late or going to a stressful family dinner isn’t life-threatening, the amygdala is what tells you how to respond.

The first thing your amygdala asks is if the situation poses a threat. When your boss asks you to help a co-worker on a project, your reaction will depend largely on your emotions. If you have a good working relationship, your prefrontal cortex will take over and allow you to logically analyze the situation. But if things have been tense, your fear might spark anxiety over the situation and cause you to override any logical deduction you might use to determine if this is good or bad for your internal well-being.

Understanding Boundaries

Once your amygdala is triggered, it can be difficult to stop thinking of anything except worst case outcomes. This is the primary reason your boundaries can be eroded over time. Every instance where you give in to the request based on fear and anxiety, the stronger this emotional reaction will become.n order to offset this reaction, you have to practice allowing your prefrontal cortex to take over. You can do this by taking time to write a pros and cons list to help you switch from emotions to logic.

Your prefrontal cortex is where your executive functioning takes place. When you need to make a sound, reasonable decision, you can rely on your prefrontal cortex to calm your emotional responses and come up with a rational approach to the problem. The more you practice logical reactions to situations requiring boundaries, the easier they get to enact.

That doesn’t mean you should get rid of your emotional response. In fact, once you’re able to effectively maintain healthy boundaries with the people around you, that emotional response can be a far more reliable indicator of things to agree to or avoid. Remember, your brain is designed to keep you safe and those emotional responses can be an incredibly reliable way to measure and assess new situations. The problem happens when you override that instinct too many times, and the emotional response takes over.

The Benefits of Boundaries

A healthy boundary is one that balances the short-term needs with the long-term benefits. When put that way, it becomes obvious why you need your prefrontal cortex in charge. You have to be able to identify, measure, and assess both the needs and potential outcomes to these difficult situations.

Healthy boundaries can reduce your stress, help you avoid burnout, and lead to better emotional regulation. When you calm your amygdala, you make it easier for your prefrontal cortex to take over. Emotions are an important part of being human, but not having emotional regulation is exhausting and can have numerous negative consequences on your body and brain. It increases the stress hormone cortisol, which can interfere with sleep, induce anxiety, and lead to poor executive functioning.

It’s understandable that the fear of damaging relationships can occur if you enforce a boundary. But studies have shown that it’s the opposite that’s true. Your relationships grow stronger because the people in your life know that you will be more present around them. When you don’t have healthy boundaries, you can develop resentments that will erode the relationship over time. And because your emotional responses are in control, you may overreact to other situations, leading to worse experiences for everyone involved.

Conclusion

Understanding the neurology of healthy boundaries is a powerful tool for optimizing your brain’s potential. Healthy boundaries allow your logical prefrontal cortex to effectively assess and analyze situations so you can ensure you balance your needs with the maximum social and emotional benefits. They also allow your amygdala to properly identify potential stressful situations that you may want to avoid. When you maintain healthy boundaries your relationships improve, your stress goes down, your brain function improves, and your overall well-being increases.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of emotional health and how to live a more emotionally healthy life, watch this video:

5 Ways To Alleviate Stress During The Holidays

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes, but for many of us, the holidays are a time of year when stress is at an all-time high. We know that chronic stress can be damaging to our body and mind, but even these temporary spikes can lead to short-term side effects. This can make coping with stress even more difficult, which then leads to more stress. The good news is that there are a ton of ways we can alleviate stress. Here are five of our favorite techniques, with a holiday twist.

1- Deck the halls

One way to manage stress is by surrounding ourselves with people that bring us joy. Studies show that spending time with friends and family has numerous benefits to our overall health and can greatly reduce our stress levels as well.

When we spend time with people we love, our brain releases oxytocin. This helps reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, allowing other feel-good hormones to balance our mood. Studies also show that when we have a network we can rely on, we tend to develop healthier coping mechanisms, which then develops a stronger sense of purpose. Strong social networks also help lower blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

We can take these social connections even further by decorating our work areas and homes. Decorating with people, either in person or via video, creates memories, along with keeping us present and in the moment. And being surrounded by items with personal connections fosters a sense of comfort, which aids in feeling content and relaxed.

2- Jingle Bell Rock

Studies show that listening to music can lower our blood pressure, elevate our moods, and calm frantic thoughts. Upbeat music can make us happy and energetic, where slower tempos can slow our heart rates and relax our muscles.

Research has shown that music can change our brain functionality almost as much as medication can. In fact, music that plays around 60 beats per minute can actually change our brainwaves. This beat pattern synchronizes our alpha brainwaves, which are prominent when we’re conscious but in a relaxed state.

For as powerful as slow tempo music can be, forcing ourselves to listen to music we don’t enjoy can actually increase our stress. The most important thing about using music to reduce stress is to listen to music we enjoy. Whatever makes us happy is going to help us relax, regardless of what tempo it plays. 

3- Candy Cane Lane

The power of scent has been shown to not just trigger memories, which can be good for stress relief, but certain scents themselves are more calming than others. In fact, some scents can alter our brain waves just like music. Using essential oils or candles can help lower the release of cortisol, along with triggering our memory and the emotion center in our limbic system. And because scent is tied with memory, different scents will impact people differently.

Scents like lavender, rose, vetiver, frankincense, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, and orange blossom are particularly calming, where mint, rosemary, and cinnamon can energize us and uplift our mood. Candles can provide a calm atmosphere by letting us lower light levels or provide focal points for meditation. Essential oils in a diffuser can be great to make our own blends and spread the scents throughout a room.

4- Walking In A Winter Wonderland

We can’t write a list about stress relief without including exercise, as it’s one of the most effective ways to lower stress levels. When we engage in aerobic exercise, our brain releases endorphins while burning away cortisol and adrenaline, the two chemicals responsible for increasing our stress. Engaging in exercise such as yoga also has meditative effects, making them very effective in lowering and managing stress.

Exercise lowers our blood pressure, improves our circulation, and balances our moods by increasing the release of dopamine and serotonin. In addition, exercising outside has some particularly strong stress-busting benefits. Being in the sun helps balance our sleep-wake cycle, along with boosting our quality of sleep from being active. Activities such as ice skating, sledding, or even walking through the neighborhood to look at holiday lights are all great ways we can exercise and involve the whole family as well.

5- Make A List, Check It Twice

Journaling, making out holiday cards, or simply utilizing to-do lists can all help reduce our stress. Writing our thoughts down in a journal helps us process our thoughts and problems, allowing us to release these emotions instead of bottling them up. And writing down what we’re grateful for can boost our satisfaction and happiness.

Another way to harness gratitude is by making out holiday cards. Gratitude rewires our brain, creates new neurons, improves our cognitive processing, and releases happy hormones which then reduce the stress hormones. It also fosters a sense of connection.

Studies show that keeping to-do lists can greatly reduce stress by taking tasks out of our working memory and putting them on paper. When we don’t have to keep track of our tasks, our brain can rest and relax, devoting more energy to performing higher-level cognitive functionality. This means we can get more done, make decisions faster, and solve problems faster. It also helps break down larger goals and when we’re able to cross items off our list, we get validation in the reward center of our brain, making us want to do more.

Conclusion

Stress is a part of our modern lives that can be difficult to escape entirely, and the holidays can add even more. But there are a few ways we can work to reduce stress by utilizing various techniques incorporated with holiday fun.

If you want to learn more about how to manage with stress effectively, watch this video:

GRATITUDE: IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR BRAIN

In the US, Thanksgiving marks the official start to the holiday season. The day itself is meant as a time to express gratitude. As you sit with friends and family, enjoying a delicious meal, it’s easier to take a moment to pause and give thanks. It might seem like an indulgent celebration, focusing on food, football, and shopping, but spending time with the people you love has a positive impact on your brain. Whether you travel to visit family, spend a fun night out with friends, or set out to make your own traditions, remember to take a moment and practice gratitude—it’s good for your brain.

Reduce symptoms of depression

The benefits of gratitude have long shown the same results: practicing gratitude in your daily life reduces the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Your brain is primarily a filtration device, and you direct where your attention and focus goes. When you focus on everything you don’t have, that’s what you notice all around you. But when you redirect your thoughts to focus on the positive aspects of your life through appreciation and gratitude, your brain will shift to notice more of those elements in your daily life.

Go into the holiday’s with a list of everything you’re grateful for and update it as you move through the season. Find something to be thankful for every day and notice how taking a moment to acknowledge that gratitude changes your mood and outlook. Wish people a happy holiday, hold doors open, smile at strangers, and take a moment to pay kindness forward by helping others in whatever small way you can.

Improve relationships

It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. Work demands take precedent, school projects and after-school activities eat up the evening hours, and weekends are spent catching up on everything you didn’t quite have time for during the week. The holiday’s are often the one time of year when visiting friends and family is finally a priority. While this can sometimes lead to increased stress, studies show being around people you love can actually improve how your brain functions.

When you express gratitude for the people in your life, you strengthen both the social and familial bonds. It redirects the focus away from negative irritations or past hurts, and helps you appreciate the positive aspects of how they impact your life. This helps reduce stress, can lower symptoms of depression, and leads to feeling more supported in your daily life.

Feel better

Multiple studies show the link between subjective well-being and gratitude. One of the primary reasons for this is when you focus your attention on positive emotions and events, you promote and encourage more positive emotions. Instead of feeling like things go wrong, you start to believe that things can go right. It builds your emotional resilience, which allows you to bounce back from unexpected obstacles and difficulties faster and with more confidence.

This becomes even more important during times of stress. And while the holiday’s can bring a lot of reasons for positive emotions, it can sometimes highlight negative ones, too. It’s important to continue building your positive frame of mind. Set healthy boundaries, make sure you have a plan to help mitigate stress, and don’t forget to do things that recharge your emotional spirit. When you embrace gratitude, you not only feel better about yourself, you increase your self-esteem, find your purpose, continue your personal growth, and gain clearer perspective about what’s most important to you and how you can hold onto it.

Lower stress

One of the most commonly touted benefits of gratitude is that it lowers stress. But it does more than that. When you practice gratitude, studies show you not only lower stress levels, but you actually decrease your overall stress response. That means you’re less likely to succumb to increased stress when faced with difficult or unforeseen problems in the future.

While being grateful during the holiday’s may come easier than other times of the year, taking the time to celebrate the wins and appreciate the small moments throughout the year is just as important. You can practice during the holiday season by focusing on the tiny moments or actions instead of the bigger, more obvious ones. By shifting your focus away from the main events, you train yourself to recognize the quiet space in between, and that’s much easier to carry throughout the year.

Get quality sleep

It should come as no surprise that practicing gratitude improves your sleep. With lower cortisol levels, your brain can produce more melatonin, promoting your body to adapt to your natural circadian rhythm. A study out of the University of Manchester found that this improved quality of sleep happened regardless of personality types or individual differences.

Quality sleep leads to better cognitive functionality, improved mood, and better health—many of the same benefits a daily gratitude practice provides. When you exercise gratitude daily, your physical and mental health both improve. This means you can be more present, show up more fully for the people in your life, and enjoy your time with them in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Conclusion

The holiday season is a mixture of both being thankful and celebrating. And both have a positive impact on your brain. As you move through this holiday season, take a moment to find reasons to be thankful. You’ll laugh more, sleep better, and feel happier. Remember, what you appreciate, appreciates. So, find reasons to embrace gratitude in your holiday celebrations in both big and small ways. Your brain—and your loved ones—will thank you.

If you want more Kwik Tips on how to make gratitude part of your daily routine, check out this video:

EMBRACE AI IN YOUR DAILY LIFE

Artificial Intelligence is one of the hottest topics on the Internet, right now. And it’s clear that this technology is going to fundamentally change the way we interact and engage with the digital world in the future. This might raise some concerns and fears that as it progresses and develops, AI will begin replacing human intelligence. But rather than seeing AI as competition, you can embrace AI as a companion.

AI is a powerful technology, capable of doing amazing things, but there are limits to what it can do. But your mind is limitless. When you leverage the power of AI as a tool to augment your human capabilities and enhance your skills, there’s no challenge you can’t conquer and no goal you can’t achieve. Here are some exciting insights into how you can incorporate AI in your daily life to optimize learning, supercharge your work performance, and master the art of time management.

Embrace a Growth Mindset

AI is evolving at a rapid pace, and it’s essential to stay curious and open-minded. Embrace a growth mindset that embraces new technologies and approaches with enthusiasm. Be willing to explore and experiment, knowing that failure is merely a stepping stone towards success.

You can use AI to embrace a growth mindset by turning it into a personal learning assistant. These programs can analyze your learning patterns, preferences, and areas of strength and weakness to curate personalized learning strategies aimed at boosting your retention, comprehension, and overall learning efficiency.

Stay Informed

We live in the age of information. Data is being produced at an exponential rate. That can make staying up-to-date and knowledgeable about almost anything an overwhelming endeavor. That’s where AI comes in. You use AI to curate content for you that is relevant and high-quality based on your interests and needs.

AI algorithms can sift through vast amounts of data, extract key insights, and present you with precisely what you need. From recommending tailored articles and videos to identifying the most valuable books and research papers, AI-powered content curation ensures you spend your time absorbing the most impactful and meaningful information.

Assess, Adapt, and Optimize

If you want to increase your work performance and productivity, you have to optimize your time management skills. And AI-powered productivity tools can be your secret weapon. These tools can automate routine tasks, assess your schedule, prioritize your to-do lists, and provide insights into your daily work patterns. They can also find tools and resources to optimize your entire day. AI can help you reclaim your time and focus on the tasks that matter the most.

As you integrate AI into your learning, work, and time management practices, regularly assess its impact. Is it truly enhancing your performance and learning experience? Are there any adjustments or fine-tuning needed? Don’t get complacent with the same tools and programs. The more you can learn how to assess and adapt, the faster you’ll continue to see optimal results.

Conclusion

AI is a transformative force that holds immense potential to enhance your learning, work performance, and time management. By embracing AI-powered tools and approaches, you can tap into the full capacity of your mind, expand your horizon, and achieve remarkable feats.

If you’re curious about how you can AI to unlock your limitless potential, check out this special podcast giving you a sneak peek into our brand-new Limitless Mind course. In it, I share how to use this incredible technology to enhance your current capabilities and take them to the next level:

HOW TO INCREASE YOUR WILLPOWER

Who doesn’t want stronger willpower? It can be instrumental in learning new skills, help you adapt to a different environment, create new habits, and help kick the old habits that aren’t working for you anymore. In short, it can help you build the necessary qualities to help you get ahead in life. That’s why learning how to increase your willpower is essential to reaching your goals.

But contrary to popular belief, willpower is more than simply forcing yourself to do something. In our last article, we talked about being aware of those marshmallow moments. The unexpected craving for a cupcake when you’re on a diet, or the urge to binge Netflix instead of studying or cleaning. These moments when left unaddressed can create anxiety, fear, and sense of failure if you’re not careful.

Even knowing what willpower is, the idea of it can still feel elusive. Often it’s mistaken for stubbornness or an innate resistance to temptation. But willpower is simple the ability to exert self-control in difficult situations. And that’s something you can build on and improve. When you’re faced with a marshmallow moment, those distractions usually offer you one of two things: avoiding stress or feeling good. Your brain wants it, and sometimes, it needs it. But you want to identify when you genuinely need a rest, and when you might simply be looking for the easy path.

One of the best ways to cultivate and grow your willpower is by making the hard thing an easy habit. When you change your behaviors and mindsets around what you believe you are capable of, it’s much easier to listen to your body and brain to maximize your productive output. Here are six ways you can increase your willpower.

Fix your routines

The first thing to look at is to make sure that you are giving your body and brain all the resources it needs to function properly. Studies show that when you don’t get enough sleep, you crave processed and sugar-laden foods. It’s a lot harder to eat the nutrient rich foods when you can’t stop thinking about a donut. Make sure you create a nighttime routine that helps facilitate healthy sleep. And if you know you’re starting your day off tired, make sure you take steps to make healthy eating easier. Pack a nutritious lunch, avoid walking by your favorite grab-and-go meals, and increase your protein to help keep you fuller, longer.

Another part of your routine is staying hydrated. Your cognitive capabilities decrease significantly when you’re as little as 2% dehydrated. It impacts your memory, your ability to reason, your decision-making skills, and more.

Choosing a healthy morning routine is just as important as your nighttime routine. You set the tone for the day and start with a focus on what’s important. This gives you clarity on what your goals are and helps prompt your brain to stay focused on those outcomes. Take five minutes and assess your state, and then create a plan to help you stay on track. You’ll find that this goes miles in reducing the moments of indecision and will help you gain momentum that carries through your day.

Don’t follow good milestones with bad rewards

Who hasn’t celebrated sticking to their diet by indulging in a cheeseburger? While one meal won’t derail a diet, it’s a mindset you want to be aware of. If you’ve struggled with staying away and have thought of nothing but that cheeseburger, you’re actually rewarding the unhealthy thought patterns, and not the healthy new behavior.

This phenomenon is called moral licensing, in which we give ourselves permission to do something “bad” since we have done something “good”. But before long, the temptation to do the bad thing becomes the driving force, pushing the focus away from your goal, or the good. Doing the good thing becomes a way to achieve the bad thing, and before long you stop doing the good thing and go straight to the bad. It can also make it easier to give in to these thoughts in more private moments.

Instead, make sure that you are aware of the desire to give in to these moments. Try to find healthy alternatives to support your new habits, goals, and mindset. When you find yourself thinking about the cheeseburger, remind yourself of why you don’t want to eat it and what you do that will satisfy the craving right now. Replace the cheeseburger with an equally satisfying alternative. Eventually, you’ll think about the cheeseburger less and find the healthy habits come more naturally.

Practice mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness training are great exercises to strengthen your willpower. These practices gently train your mind to establish control over itself in a safe and relaxed way. But practicing mindfulness is possible outside of meditation exercises, in your everyday life. You can practice deep breathing exercises at traffic lights or subway stops. Choose the longest line at the grocery store or park as far as you can and walk. Being present and in the moment will help control your impatience and build the self-control muscle that makes doing the hard thing easier over time.

These practices also help reduce stress. Stress often pushes people back into old habits. Part of the reason is how habits are coded in the brain. Once the behavior is a habit, it stops producing the dopamine reward. But if you start the behavioral pattern after ending the habit, the reward is reactivated. Depending on how much stress you’re under, it can be very tempting to go after that dopamine burst. Which is why managing your stress is so important when trying to stay away from old bad habits.

Mindfulness allows the areas of your brain relating to attention and emotional regulation to function more efficiently. This is crucial when it comes to willpower. When your stress levels rise, these areas shut down. It’s harder to focus, which can derail you in terms of reaching your goals. And your emotions might take over, making that donut sound way better than it actually is.

Break down your goals

It can be easy to lose steam when working towards a goal. Particularly one on a long timeframe. Your brain wasn’t designed to power through obstacles with no rewards for long periods of time. Which is why breaking your goal down into small, simple steps is so vital in building your willpower.

Instead of only counting a diet as a success when you lose twenty pounds, celebrate every pound. Even better, add inches, muscle tone, exercise stamina, and healthy meals choices into the mix. Every milestone or win you celebrate, activates your reward center and gives you a new goal to anticipate. This builds momentum, which helps get you to the next step, and the next, and the next. Before you know it, you’ll reach your goal—maybe even surpass it.

And don’t forget to reframe your rewards in ways that further your goals. If you want to diet, buy new clothes when you reach a milestone. If you’re working towards a degree, perhaps ordering business cards or investing in supplies you’ll need for a new job can help keep you focused. Come up with rewards that promote your new habits and behaviors to help keep your brain engaged and entirely focused on your goals.

Don’t say “I won’t”, say “I will”

The language you use while thinking has a huge effect on your actions. Research suggests that positive reinforcement serves better in achieving goals than negative ones. One famous experiment highlights this. It’s known as the White Bear Analogy. Essentially, if someone tells you not to think about a white bear, you won’t be able to stop thinking about a white bear.

In terms of your life, instead of telling yourself what to not think about, create a list of new thoughts. When you think about the white bear, don’t force the thought away, simply think about a black bear instead. If French fries or cheeseburgers are your white bear, think about a new healthy snack you’ve been excited to try or the new outfit you want to buy.

You can’t force yourself not to think about things. But you can replace those thoughts with new ones. And by finding replacements for those thoughts, you will activate other areas of your brain and stimulate the reward centers at the same time. It can become a game and give you new experiences to look forward to. And that’s the best way to stay engaged and motivated.

Avoid decision-fatigue

A little bit of decision making every day is good exercise, but when it becomes your whole day it can deplete your cognitive resources. Decisions require willpower, but they also require attention, focus, and problem-solving. If you do this too much, it can tire your brain out.

This is known as decision fatigue. It’s essentially the term that encapsulates a few things we’ve talked about before. When you’re tired, hungry, stressed, and overwhelmed, decisions are harder. Eating the healthy foods, going for a run, not staying up late to watch a movie, all become harder.

You can offset this fatigue by making as many decisions as you can when you’re in a clear, focused state of mind. Meal prep on a day when you can come up with that week’s menu, buy the groceries, and prepare the ingredients for easy cooking. It’s much easier to go home and cook when you know everything is ready and waiting for you. Schedule your workouts and have your gym bag ready. Set your clothes out either the night before, or even the entire week in advance. Pre-plan your workouts or run routes.

The more you do to help make these smaller decisions easy, the more energy your brain will have to focus on the harder, more complicated tasks.

Conclusion

Willpower is not something you have, it’s something you build. It all comes down to habit. Instead of blaming yourself for failing, you can reframe your mindset, break down your goals, and change your language to ensure better outcomes. Before you know it, you’ll be smashing down goals and your willpower will become stronger with every milestone you reach.