Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to stay focused on your goals

Ok, so its almost 2 weeks out from your New Years Resolution. How have you been doing? Still going to the gym? Staying away from those late night Ben and Jerry’s cravings? I hope so. Don’t give in, it is shown that the more that you resist temptation the stronger your brain synapses become. Just say no! Here are some more tips to help you keep on task in 2012.

The policeman of your brain is the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This is the area associated with focus, judgment and impulse control. It acts as the brains brake and fights back against cravings and temptation. There are many times when emotions can take over and the PFC cannot control them. In a healthy brain, there is good judgment and emotional control by the PFC. Healthy levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine lead to good activity in the PFC. Low levels of dopamine are associated with certain problems that rob us of motivation, such as Parkinson’s disease, some forms of depression and ADD. Addictions occur when the drive circuits hijack the brain and take over control.

When dopamine levels and the prefrontal cortex (PFC) are in balance, we can be focused and goal oriented and have control over our cravings; we can walk away from caramel apples, chocolate cake, the bag of chips, French fries, and the myriad of other unhealthy choices. When these chemicals and brain areas are troubled, we often get off track and can do serious damage to ourselves.

For example, having low activity in the PFC from a head injury, poor sleep, persistent drug or alcohol use, or inheriting ADD, makes it more likely you will have impulse-control problems and poor self-supervision. Even though the goal would be to stop drinking, hold off on the cigarettes, or maintain a healthy weight, you do not have the willpower (or the PFC power) to say no on a regular basis.

Here are some tips to regaining control and balancing your brain systems

1. Boost your prefrontal cortex (PFC)

To gain control over willpower and cravings, it is critical to strengthen your PFC. To do so:

Treat any PFC problems that may exist, such as ADD, toxic exposure, or brain trauma.

Get good sleep – at least seven hours, more is better – to maintain adequate PFC bloodflow.

Maintain a healthy blood sugar level by eating frequent smaller meals. A 2007 article by Matthew Gailliot and Roy Baumeister, the authors outline the crucial nature of blood sugar levels and self-control. They write that self-control failures are more likely to occur when blood sugar is low. Low blood sugar levels can make you feel hungry, irritable, or anxious – all which make you more likely to make poor choices. Many everyday behaviors can cause dips in blood sugar levels, including drinking alcohol, skipping meals, and consuming sugary snacks or beverages, which causes an initial spike in blood sugar and a crash about 30 minutes later. Keeping glucose levels even throughout the day increased self-control.

Several studies have examined the relationship between glucose and smoking cessation, in the majority of these studies it has been found that healthy glucose levels can increase the likelihood of successfully quitting smoking. Coping with stress requires self-control because it requires that people make concerted effort to control their attention, thoughts, and emotions. People with healthy blood sugar levels are therefore also able to manage stress more effectively than others. Maintaining your blood sugar levels with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat will significantly cut down on your cravings.

Exercise - Exercise helps to boost your blood flow to the brain which increases PFC activity.

Practice meditation – numerous studies have found that this activity increases blood flow to the PFC.

Create focused, written goals - The PFC is involved in planning and forethought. It needs clear direction. Dr. Daniel G. Amen, MD has his patients do an exercise called the One Page Miracle (OPM) because it makes such a dramatic difference in the lives of those who practice it.

One Page Miracle (OPM)

Here are the steps: On a piece of paper, write down the specific goals you have for your life, including your health, relationships, work, and money. Your OPM includes more than just your physical goals because your relationships, career, and financial situation – and the stress they can cause – all affect your body and your willpower.

Take your time with this exercise. Keep the paper with you so you can jot down ideas and goals as they come to you. After you complete your initial draft, place it somewhere where you can be sure to see it every day, such as on the refrigerator, on your bathroom, near or on your desk at work. This way, on a daily basis, you'll be focusing on what's important to you. When you're focused on what you want, it makes it much easier to match your behavior to make it happen.

Ask yourself everyday, is my behavior today getting me what I want? Your mind is powerful and it makes happen what it sees. Focus and meditate on what you want. You will find that your willpower goes up dramatically.

Here's an example:

Tamaras one page miracle - What do I want for my life?

Relationships – to be connected to those I love

Spouse/significant other: to maintain a close, kind, caring, loving partnership with my husband. I want him to know how much I care about him.

Family: to be a firm, kind, positive, predictable presence in my children's lives. I want to help them develop into happy, responsible people. To continue to keep close contact with my parents, to provide support and love.

Friends: to take time to maintain and nurture my relationships with my siblings.

Work – to be my best at work, while maintaining a balanced life. Specifically, for my work activities to focus on taking care of my current projects, doing activities targeted at obtaining new clients, and giving back to the community by doing some charity work each month. I will focus on my goals at work and not get distracted by things not directly related to my goals.

Money – to be responsible and thoughtful and help our resources grow.

Short term: to be thoughtful of how our money is spent, to ensure it is directly related to our families and my needs and goals

Long term: to save 10% of everything I earn. I pay myself and my family before other things I'll put this money away each month in a pension plan for retirement.

Health – to be healthiest person I can be

Weight: to lose 30 pounds so my body mass index will be in the normal range

Fitness: exercise for at least 30 minutes three times a week and start taking martial arts lessons.

Nutrition: to eat breakfast every day so I don't get really hungry until lunchtime. To prepare a sack lunch at least three days a week so not tempted to go to fast food restaurants across from work. To eliminate diet sodas and reduce the amount of sugar I eat. To take a multivitamin and fish oil every day.

Physical health: to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Emotional health: to meditate for 10 minutes every day to help me calm stress

To help ensure success with your goals practice these tips to strengthen your prefrontal cortex (PFC). This is your year to succeed in all aspects of your life!

Dr. Todd Rodman, DC


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