Changing My Brain with Small Goals: Month 1



Did you know you can change your brain? I was listening to a very interesting podcast this morning (you know I do that) about our ability to change the chemistry and even the structure of our own brains. That was very compelling to me, as I think I was born with a brain that’s not very good with dates, stays up way too late, fears failure, and has a terrible memory (and yes, struggles with low self esteem).

Right vs. Left

On the podcast, UT-Dallas psychology professor Ian Robertson explained that animal and human brains have two competing urges that originate in our brain’s structure.

The LEFT frontal lobe

  • anticipates reward
  • is optimistic
  • is goal-seeking

The RIGHT frontal lobe

  • anticipates punishment or threat
  • retreats
  • is linked to anxiety

It would appear that in my dark moments I tend toward my right frontal lobe, as I’m sure many of us do. As he puts it, every difficult decision we face activates both sides of our brain, and it’s up to us to choose which one we pay attention to. If only it were that simple, right?

Robertson suggests that it could be.

How to control your brain

Robertson says we “can alter various neurotransmitters in our brain in somewhat more accurate ways than drugs can” for example, if we’re feeling anxious, depressed, or bored, then the best way to motivate our brains is to set small goals for ourselves. The goals should be not too hard, and not too easy, for the best impact.

Crossing a goal off your to-do list gives your brain a shot of the feel-good hormone, dopamine, and activates the left side of your brain that’s positive and goal-seeking. It also builds momentum into achieving your next goal, which is why Robertson recommends “nesting” your goals, or building smaller goals within a large goal (like a marathon) to condition your brain and build better habits.

So for all of the above convincing, scientific, and optimistic reasons, I have decided to try out some small goals and see what I can accomplish in 2017.

My January Small Goals

Remember, they’re not supposed to be hard, and not too easy. But just right.

  1. Make small goals – Perhaps this is cheating, but I’m going to call it setting myself up for success.
  2. Blog twice a week – Working on this as we speak.
  3. Go to sleep before midnight – “Wake up earlier” is forever on my hopes and dreams list, but this month I’m going to try and tackle it from the flip side – by going to sleep earlier. For me this is a major struggle since I’m most creative and product after 11pm.
  4. Get coffee with 2 new people – Austin is full of talented, warm, and inspiring people. I’d like to get to know a few of them better this year.
  5. Juice at least 3 mornings a week – I used to be great about making a green juice every morning when I woke up… and then I got a dog. I’m hoping to add this back into my morning routine (goal #3 should help).
  6. Join CorePower Yoga – I’m an all or nothing person when it comes to exercise. Last year I was going to CorePower 4 times a week for 3 months, and then I didn’t go at all for the rest of the year. I want to start up again because I know I’m happier and healthier when I do.
  7. Complete The Curated Closet – For Christmas my mom gave me The Curated Closet handbook, a gift that is so incredibly fitting and one that I didn’t even know I wanted. How did she do that?
  8. Not shop – My birthday was in November and then there was the holidays so I’ve been on one long treat-yourself-and-everyone-around-you shopping binge. I have some other ideas about how to be thoughtful about this that I’ll probably write a full post on, but for January I’m planning to not buy anything new.
  9. Read a book – I started a book club at work and so this is an extracurricular work activity that just needs to get done. I’ll be on a plane this weekend so I hope to knock out some (all) of it then!
  10. Get involved with Mavenly + Co – I found this resource at the end of last year and made it a goal to make use of it in 2017. If it goes well I may talk about it more here.
  11. Get more involved with the Girls Empowerment Network – In 2016 I started volunteering with the Girls Empowerment Network and helped facilitate their annual conference, the We Are Girls summit, and it was such a great experience I vowed to get more involved with them.

The idea that your brain has the ability to be molded and reworked simply through our thoughts and habits, and that you can continue to do this right into old age, gives me life. Is there anything more optimistic than that?!

I haven’t always been a super goal oriented person (there’s that fear of failure) but – well, that’s something that I can change. Happy 2017 everyone, I’d love to hear a small goal of yours in the comments.


Cristina V. Cleveland

Cristina V. Cleveland is a senior beauty editor based in Austin, TX. She has been exploring personal style and decor on Fuji Files since 2009. Her work as a writer and editor has appeared in publications like Refinery29, Birchbox, TradHome Magazine, To&From Magazine, Coco+Kelley, CamilleStyles and ads in Glamour, InStyle and Lucky.

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Rather than pushing up-to-the-minute trends and products, Fuji Files is about discovering a lasting, personal aesthetic and the journey to feeling your personal best. 

Fuji Files was started by Cristina Cleveland, the Managing Editor of NaturallyCurly, the largest hair and beauty content platform. Her work as a writer and editor has appeared in publications like Refinery29, Teen Vogue, CamilleStyles, Blavity, Birchbox, TradHome Magazine, Coco+Kelley, and ads in Glamour, InStyle and Lucky.