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Episode 32: How Your Brain Sabotages Your Plans

Video Highlights

Hi, everybody.

Dr. Eric Cobb back with you.

We’re headed into 2014, in case you hadn’t noticed that on the calendar, and I want to talk about changing your life and changing your behavior in the most efficient way possible.

Now, today I basically want to talk about two simple things about how our brains work and give you two ideas going into 2014, regardless of what you’re thinking about changing. If you want to exercise more, exercise differently, lose weight, work on your relationships, all this stuff actually applies. So the two things I’m going to talk about today: number one is called a planning fallacy. And number two; I’m going to tell you if you’re setting real serious goals for 2014, to tell very few people about them. Now, that may sound a little contrary, but let me explain.

But let’s start off with the planning fallacy first. There’s something weird about our human brains in which we are overly optimistic about how quickly we can accomplish anything. And what researchers basically say is that the human brain is not very good at predicting the future. What we’re really good at is recognizing patterns from data.

So if you’re going to do something like, “Hey, I want to lose twenty pounds in 2014,” most people will vastly overestimate how quickly they can get that done. And the reason for that, like I said, is that our brains seem to project our desires into our plans.

Whenever we say, “I want to do something hard; I’m going to lose weight; I’m going to improve my relationship with my kids” … Whatever it is, our brains want that process to be fast and easy, and so we actually project our desires for fast and easy into our planning.

That’s not how it works. In fact, in research what we see is that the vast majority of people, given three options for planning, an optimistic time frame, a realistic time frame, and a pessimistic time frame, even those that choose the pessimistic time frame are usually still vastly overestimating how quickly they can get something done … in fact, by almost forty percent.

So if you went, ” You know, I’m going to lose twenty pounds in 2014, and I think, worse case scenario, I’ll have that done by mid-summer,” the fact is that you need to be thinking probably the end of third quarter, not mid-summer, in order to accomplish that, really, realistically, based on the fact that life doesn’t stop when you have plans. So that is really important.

Now how do we use that information going into 2014? Pretty simple. Look back at your past behavior change attempts and notice how long things took you and notice when your frustration levels built up and when you wanted to quit. Because if you’ve tried losing weight, or exercising differently, or getting up early, and you have failed in your past behavior attempts, in most cases you gave up because you got frustrated by lack of progress. But your lack of progress was determined by an early goal that was probably vastly overestimated.

So I really want you to spend a little bit of time as you go into 2014 thinking this through, going “All right, how about if I look at everything that I want to do, I give myself what I consider to be a realistic or pessimistic time frame, and I double that.” Now, all of a sudden, we actually have a workable time frame and a workable plan so that as you’re in the process of making changes, you don’t have to be so frustrated. You just keep looking back at where you’re coming from, how long you think it’s actually going to take, based on real data, and you grow from there.

So the planning fallacy I believe is incredibly important to understand because of how our brains work, and it’s something that we constantly have to deal with.

Now the second thing I want to bring up is that if you’re thinking about making other changes in 2014, don’t tell too many people about it, because another weird thing about our brains is this. I’m talking to a friend and go, “Hey, man, I’m going to lose twenty pounds in 2014,” and my friend, who loves me, who wants the best for me, goes, “That’s awesome. I’m really happy to hear that you’ve finally gone ahead and made that decision.”

And our brain, because we’ve gotten positive reinforcement around an idea, kind of assumes that we’ve already accomplished it. And again, this has shown up in research over and over, that if we are, we get too much positive reinforcement for sharing an idea about a change that we want to make, we’re less likely to accomplish it.

So, while I know that there are a lot of websites and communities out there that go, “Hey, tell us your progress,” and they have shown some value, one of the things I want you to be aware of is, maybe try not to over-share with people that are really close to you, uh, because whenever we get that positive reinforcement, it is weird that a lot of people lose motivation for change when people are congratulating them.

So be very, very cognizant of that if you’re thinking about 2014, where you’re going to post your goals. Are you going to put them up at your desk? Most of that stuff, keep it to yourself. You know, if you have an online community or an accountability partner, someone that you know is going to actually hold you accountable to real change or real data, that’s awesome. But just generally sharing this stuff with people who are just going to congratulate you on making the attempt may not be your best idea.

So, there you have it going into 2014, two big ideas. Be very, very ultra-realistic in your time frame and then double it for how long things are going to take. And then be really careful about over-sharing your goals. Make sure that you’re sharing them with people who will really hold you accountable, who will go, “Hey, where’s the data?”

Because the thing about the human brain is that while we’ve got all these other weird things about us, whenever we can actually look at hard data and go, “Wow! Month one this is what happened, month two this is what happened,” we did really, really good at predicting future patterns, and from there, our behavior can actually make dramatic changes.

So, there you have it. These are the things that we apply across the board in our own businesses and our own lives, and I consider them two of the most important concepts around behavior change that I’ve ever heard. So, going into 2014, please let us know how we can help.

Now, what I would like to ask of you, if this prompted some ideas or prompted some thoughts, I would love to get emails from twenty to twenty-five of you that are watching this blog, about how you’re going to use this information going forward. I want to take some of that detail as it comes in and get some questions from you as well to help build out some blogs coming up in the next quarter.

Because, as I said, being in this business for so long, the number one thing I’ve realized about health fitness rehab and everything else in life … It’s all about getting ourselves to take the right action at the right time. It’s all about behavior. And I want to make sure going into the next year that we’re giving you as much data, as much information, and inspiration as possible to help you make the changes in your life that will actually, uh, increase your happiness and the happiness of those around you.

So, thanks so much for supporting us this year.

I wish you a fantastic New Year going into 2014, and we’ll look forward to seeing you and helping and speaking with you, uh, throughout the year. So please contact us if there’s anything that we can do for you.

Thanks so much.

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