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Biohacking New Year's Resolutions: The Secret to Success on Your Journey to a Healthier & Happier You

Updated: 6 days ago


Biohacking New Year's Resolutions: The Secret to Success on Your Journey to a Healthier & Happier You

Here are some stats:

  • 38.5% of American adults set New Year’s resolutions every year.

  • 48% want to exercise more, making it the most popular resolution. The top 3 are all health-related.

  • 23% quit in the first week.

  • 9% successfully keep their New Year’s resolutions.

This article provides you with the knowledge and tools to leverage your biology to place you among the 9% who successfully keep their New Year’s resolutions.


Setting SMART Goals

One of the most common points of failure in keeping New Year’s resolutions is ineffective goal setting. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals set the framework for success.

  • Specific: A specific goal is well-defined and clearly stated. It should answer the questions who, what, when, where, and why.

  • Measurable: A measurable goal has a way to track progress. This could be a number, a percentage, or a milestone.

  • Achievable: An achievable goal is realistic and attainable. It should be challenging but not impossible.

  • Relevant: A relevant goal is aligned with your values and priorities. It should be something that you actually want to achieve; otherwise, you won’t be committed.

  • Time-bound: A time-bound goal has a deadline within a reasonable timeframe. This helps you stay on track and motivated.

So, for example, instead of saying "I want to lose weight," a SMART goal might be "I will reduce my body fat percentage by 5% in 10 weeks by maintaining a 500 calorie daily caloric deficit, eating only whole foods, doing 150 minutes per week of Zone 2 cardio, doing one twenty minute HIIT session per week, and doing 6 work sets per muscle group per week of resistance training. This will improve my overall health, which will allow me to protect and provide for my family for years to come."


SMART goals, with their clear criteria for success, provide a tangible sense of accomplishment, triggering the brain’s reward system and fueling further motivation. The specificity and measurability of SMART goals make it easier to track progress and celebrate milestones, further reinforcing the positive association with goal achievement.


SMART goals also play a key role in enhancing self-efficacy, our belief in our ability to succeed at a particular task or goal. It is a crucial factor in determining whether we even attempt to pursue a goal, as well as our persistence in the face of challenges. The achievable nature of SMART goals makes them less intimidating and more likely to be perceived as attainable. As we make progress toward our SMART goals, our self-efficacy increases, fueling our confidence and motivation to continue striving.


This framework allows you to leverage the two most relevant biological mechanisms involved in cultivating new habits – the dopamine reward system and neuroplasticity.


The Dopamine Reward System

Motivation is the driving force behind our actions and is closely linked to the brain's reward system. When we set, work toward, and achieve goals, our brains release dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and satisfaction. This dopamine release reinforces the desired behavior, making us more likely to repeat it in the future. The important thing to remember here is: behavior comes first; mood follows action. Dopamine is only released after you perform a task that propels you toward your goal.


Because of this, in addition to setting SMART goals, it is important to set milestones along the way to your goal and to celebrate these victories when you achieve them by rewarding yourself mentally or physically with something that supports the habit (e.g., buying a new pair of running shoes).


You can even break it down further by mentally rewarding each minor action you take. For example, when I need to go the gym, but I’m feeling unmotivated, I start by putting on my gym clothes and mentally rewarding myself for it. Then, I drive to the gym and mentally reward myself for it. Then, I walk through the gym doors and mentally reward myself for it; and by the time I’m inside, I feel ready to crush leg day.


After doing this week after week, it becomes habitual, which leads me to the second biological mechanism involved in habit formation.


Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to change and adapt itself throughout life. This includes the ability to form new neural connections, strengthen existing ones, and eliminate connections that are no longer needed. When we engage in a behavior repeatedly, the brain forms new neural connections that make it easier to perform that behavior in the future. These new neural connections are the physical basis of habits.


For example, if you start exercising in the morning regularly, your brain will form new neural connections that make it easier to get out of bed and go to the gym. Over time, these new neural connections will become stronger, and you will find that it is easier and easier to stick to your exercise routine.


The key is consistent repetition. It’s simple as that; but simple doesn’t mean easy.


Growth Mindset

The pursuit of any goal worth pursuing will inevitably involve some periods of friction and stress. Fortunately, Mother Nature has gifted us with a neurochemical adaptation that rewards us for choosing to move forward. When you face your stressors and fears head-on, epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are released during the stress response, are accompanied by dopamine. In this context, dopamine creates a sense of craving for accomplishing a task and makes us feel good about facing our fears head-on and pursuing our goals. This is the neurochemical basis of growth mindset. Now that you understand the mechanism of how stress can actually be enhancing and not debilitating, you can leverage this phenomenon by framing challenges, failures, and setbacks as opportunities to grow.


“Flow State”

Another benefit to facing your fears is that when you are able to face a stressful situation head-on and cross to the other side with the neurochemical cocktail of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, you enter what is often referred to as a “flow state,” a state of mind characterized by intense focus and alertness as well as a sense of calm. In this calm, focused state, you have the hyperawareness and energy from norepinephrine without the “adrenaline dump” that makes you jittery and tense. This is because dopamine has a tremendous ability to buffer epinephrine.


Furthermore, acetylcholine and glutamate, neurotransmitters linked to neuroplasticity, learning, and memory, are abundant in the “flow state.” This is because acetylcholine is released with epinephrine during the stress response, and dopaminergic neurons co-release glutamate. The addition of acetylcholine and glutamate to the neurochemical cocktail puts your brain into a more neuroplastic state, allowing you to change previously held thoughts and habits as well as learn and remember new ones. However, ensuring restful sleep is crucial. Neurons may be marked for change during the “flow state,” but neuroplasticity actually occurs during sleep.


While dopamine release promotes motivation and facilitates the “flow state,” there can be too much of a good thing.


The Pleasure-Pain Balance

Spikes in dopamine levels are always followed by dips in dopamine levels of proportional amplitude; high highs are followed by low lows. This is because at any given moment, you have a readily releasable pool of dopamine. If that pool is exhausted, you will experience a period of “pain” until the pool is replenished. This is also why engaging in activities that cause the release of dopamine without prior requirement of effort, such as scrolling social media and munching on junk food, are so bad for us.


When you finally achieve the goal that you worked so hard to achieve, and you are completely over the moon and celebrate like it’s 1999, your readily releasable pool of dopamine will be exhausted, and, in the following days, weeks, or even months, you may experience feelings of melancholy and aimlessness. Furthermore, after your dopamine pools are replenished, your baseline dopamine levels – the amount of dopamine that is circulating in your body at all times – will be lower than the pre-celebration baseline. This occurs as an adaptation to the prior depletion of dopamine.


For this reason, it is important, when pursuing a goal, to reward the pursuit of the goal rather than overemphasizing the achievement of it. This means that as you are doing anything that propels you toward your goal (even if it’s something boring or unenjoyable), take a moment to deliberately commend yourself for working diligently and congratulate yourself when you reach minor milestones, and, when you finally achieve your goal, do not get overly caught up in the moment and celebrate too much. This allows you to consistently achieve goals without losing motivation and passion along the way as well as buffers you from the “postpartum” depression that inevitably follows.


Reward Prediction Error

Another benefit of learning to appreciate the process of achieving a goal rather than merely pinning your satisfaction to the achievement itself is that it protects you from the reward prediction error. The reward prediction error is essentially the difference between the reward you expected and the reward you received. Anytime there is a possibility of a reward, there are three possible scenarios:

  1. You expect a reward, and the reward meets your expectations. In this scenario, your dopamine levels are slightly increased after receiving the reward, but the change is relatively modest compared to the second scenario.

  2. You unexpectedly receive a reward, or you expect a reward, and the reward exceeds your expectations. In this scenario, your dopamine levels spike dramatically after receiving the reward. The amplitude of the dopamine spike depends on how off your expectation was.

  3. You expect a reward, but either you don’t receive a reward or the reward does not meet your expectations. In this scenario, your dopamine levels drop significantly below baseline. The amplitude of the dopamine dip depends on how off your expectation was.

  4. Rewarding the pursuit and learning to appreciate, or even enjoy, the struggle protects your mental health and allows you to consistently pursue and achieve goals without losing motivation because success is not guaranteed, but the struggle is.


Healthy Habit Recommendations

Based on my reading of the current body of medical literature, my own life experience, and my experience as a healthcare provider, no amount of healthcare can stand in or make up for healthy lifestyle choices. Now that you understand how to leverage your biology to cultivate habits and avoid pitfalls, here are some practices that I highly recommend you implement into your daily routine.


Sleep

  • Entrain your circadian rhythm to the diurnal cycle by viewing morning sunlight, viewing evening sunlight, and tapering evening light exposure. The central pacemaker of the circadian rhythm is the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), and the only input that the SCN takes is light taken in from the eyes.

  • Practice good sleep hygiene. Along with tapering light exposure in the evening, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and keeping the room cool and dark will also improve your sleep quality.

  • Practice gratitude. The neurochemical most associated with the feeling of gratitude and contentment is serotonin. Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle by inducing sleep.


Stress Management

  • Use the physiological sigh – a deep, long inhale until almost full immediately followed by a quick inhale until full and then a long, slow exhale through the mouth. Deep abdominal breathing sends a signal from the diaphragm through the phrenic nerve to the brain, telling it to calm down. Also, the second short inhale reinflates the alveoli in the lungs, restoring normal gas exchange, which also reinforces the calming message to the brain.

  • Go for a walk while actively processing your source of anxiety. When you’re walking, your eyes make constant lateral movement to continuously update your brain on where you are in space. These lateral eye movements quiet circuits in areas of the brain that are responsible for stress (e.g., amygdala). Actively thinking about your source of stress and how to get past it while walking allows you to process your stress without triggering the stress response.

  • Practice self-induced mild stress (e.g., exercise, intermittent fasting, and deliberate cold exposure). Stress management is a skill, and just like any other skill, you get better at it with repetition.


Diet

  • Eat whole foods (organic, if possible), not too much (or too little), and mostly plants. If you follow this simple piece of advice, 90% of your dietary concerns will be resolved as a result.

  • Practice mindful eating. Treat your meals as a mini vacation. Don’t work, watch TV, scroll social media, or anything else while eating. Don’t eat while standing or while angry. Do chew your food thoroughly and actively appreciate the flavors and textures of your meal. This will drastically improve your digestion.

  • Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink enough water and to take it slowly. Chugging your beverages will reduce water absorption.


Exercise

  • Train for general physical preparedness (GPP). Training for GPP provides balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness. Achieving a certain level of GPP will allow you to do what you want and need to do in daily life as well as to protect yourself and your loved ones during an emergency.

  • Do at least 120 minutes per week of Zone 2 cardiovascular exercise. Zone 2 cardio benefits mitochondrial biogenesis, mitochondrial efficiency, and metabolic flexibility. This means it improves your cell’s ability to absorb nutrients from food and convert it into usable energy.

  • If your health allows, reach your maximum heart rate at least once per week. This increases your VO2 Max, which is the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness.

  • Do at least 6 work sets per muscle group per week of resistance training. Make sure to use proper form, use full range of motion, and focus on compound movements. Resistance training helps maintain functional abilities and prevent musculoskeletal disorders such as osteoporosis, sarcopenia, and low-back pain. It has been shown to improve both physical and mental health.

  • Do at least one session per week of dedicated flexibility, mobility, and coordination training, such as yoga, dancing, and martial arts. These types of exercise are tremendously beneficial for physical and mental health and have been shown to improve cognitive function and overall health into the later years of life.


From Knowledge to Action

I hope that the knowledge and tools I’ve given you in this article have impressed upon you the tremendous ability you have to leverage your biology to impact your overall health and well-being by regulating your lifestyle habits. But knowledge means nothing without action. Remember: behavior comes first; mood follows action.


That being said, here’s my challenge to you: Make a SMART goal for your health-related New Year’s resolution and work toward it for 8 weeks using what you’ve learned from this article.


8 Weeks to Wellness

After these 8 weeks, if you find it challenging to cultivate your newfound healthy habits or desire support right from the beginning, we are here to provide the support you need for success.


While 8 weeks may not suffice for complete optimization of your physical and mental health, depending on your current state, it is ample time to establish the lifestyle habits that will set you on the right path. The difference that these eight weeks can make in your life is like the difference that getting on the correct road makes in getting to your destination.


To this end, we have developed an eight-week wellness program that will help you create and implement sleep, stress management, dietary, exercise, and other habits as well as establish a growth mindset, using the principles and methods discussed in this article and more, that will restore balance to your body and mind.


In this program, we not only assist you in creating these habits and mindsets but also empower you to apply the principles and methods to your life. This allows you to take control of your own health and well-being, following the adage: “Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”


Additionally, we incorporate our in-clinic services, including acupuncture, medical massage, cupping, gua sha, infrared heat therapy, and herbal medicine, into the program, putting you on track to a state of complete wellness more efficiently and effectively. These therapies can supercharge your efforts toward keeping your New Year’s resolution. This program is a manifestation of our mission to improve the overall health and well-being of our entire community, giving you the care, tools, and knowledge to restore balance to your life.



Free Wellness Consultation & Promotion

If you’re interested in leveraging our services to improve your overall health and well-being, we’d like to offer you a free wellness consultation to see how we can be of service to you. During the consultation, we will use both Eastern and conventional medicine diagnostic methods and criteria to provide you with an individualized treatment plan that incorporates health coaching and our in-clinic services to optimize your health.


For a limited time, we are pleased to offer a 20% discount on the 8 Weeks to Wellness program. Ensure to redeem this promotion by March 31st, 2024.


For more information and to redeem, simply submit the free consultation form on our website, or give us a call at (206) 880-1018. Please mention this article when you schedule your appointment.


TL;DR

I get it. You’re busy. While I’d highly recommend that you read this article in its entirety (it’s worth the read, I promise), I understand if you just want the highlights. So, here they are:


Only 9% of Americans successfully keep their New Year’s resolutions. Here’s how to be part of that statistic:

  • Set SMART goals.

  • The dopamine reward system and neuroplasticity are the two most relevant biological mechanisms involved in cultivating new habits.

  • Behavior comes first; mood follows action.

  • Consistent repetition forms new neural connections.

  • Stress can actually be enhancing and not debilitating.

  • Frame challenges, failures, and setbacks as opportunities to grow.

  • Facing challenges head-on activates the “flow state.”

  • High highs are followed by low lows; so, reward the pursuit of the goal rather than overemphasizing the achievement of it.

  • Protect your mental health from the reward prediction error; success is not guaranteed, but the struggle is.

  • No amount of healthcare can stand in or make up for healthy lifestyle choices.

    • Sleep

      • Entrain your circadian rhythm to the diurnal cycle.

      • Practice good sleep hygiene.

      • Practice gratitude.

    • Stress Management

      • Use the physiological sigh.

      • Go for a walk while actively processing your source of anxiety.

      • Practice self-induced mild stress.

    • Diet

      • Eat whole foods (organic, if possible), not too much (or too little), and mostly plants.

      • Practice mindful eating.

      • Stay hydrated.

    • Exercise

      • Train for general physical preparedness (GPP).

      • Do at least 120 minutes per week of Zone 2 cardiovascular exercise.

      • If your health allows, reach your maximum heart rate at least once per week.

      • Do at least 6 work sets per muscle group per week of resistance training.

      • Do at least one session per week of dedicated flexibility, mobility, and coordination training.

  • Knowledge means nothing without action.

  • My challenge to you: Make a SMART goal for your health-related New Year’s resolution and work toward it for 8 weeks using what you’ve learned from this article.

  • If, after those 8 weeks, you’re struggling to cultivate your new healthy habits, or you’d like some support from the get-go, we can provide the support you need to succeed.

  • 8 Weeks to Wellness program

    • Helps you create and implement sleep, stress management, dietary, exercise, and other habits as well as establish a growth mindset.

    • Supercharges your efforts with acupuncture, medical massage, cupping, gua sha, infrared heat therapy, and herbal medicine.

    • Click here for more information (and a free e-book).

  • Promotion

    • Free wellness consultation: Detailed evaluation based on both Eastern and conventional medicine diagnostic methods and criteria to provide you with an individualized treatment plan.

    • Limited-Time Offer: 20% discount on the 8 Weeks to Wellness program if you redeem this promotion by March 31st, 2024.

    • For more information and to redeem, simply scan the QR code and submit the free consultation form on our website, or give us a call at (206) 880-1018. Please mention this article when you schedule your appointment.


New Year; Fresh Start

With the new year comes a perfect opportunity for a fresh start and positive change. At Rise Acupuncture & Wellness Clinic, we embrace this optimistic feeling every day; after all, it’s in our name. Rise embodies the dual essence of "rise" by drawing inspiration from the sunrise, symbolizing renewed hope, and encouraging individuals to elevate themselves to new heights through holistic well-being.


Our logo, representing a mountain sunrise, embodies harmony between Yin (triangle) and Yang (circle). Rooted in traditional Chinese philosophy, it signifies the human being as a bridge between Heaven (Yang) and Earth (Yin), emphasizing the need for harmony between the mind (Heaven) and body (Earth) to attain one's full potential.


The point is: empowering individuals in our community to ascend beyond their current limitations by optimizing their physical and mental well-being is what we’re all about.


With that in mind, I wish you the best on your wellness journey and in keeping your 2024 New Year’s resolutions.


Rise above; you’ve got this!


Dr. Andrew Zeng, L.Ac.

Rise Acupuncture & Wellness Clinic

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