The winter months are the perfect time for introspection. During this time we are held closer to home. Nights are long and cold and as a result we have more time to indulge in philosophy by fireside. As the new year approaches, we reflect on which aspects of our lives were good, the challenges we’ve faced and the mistakes we’ve made.
January is widely accepted to be named after Janus, the Roman god of new beginnings and transitions, so it follows that we use the 1st of January to set our own personal change in motion. Janus had two faces, one pointing to the past and one pointing to the future, a befitting representation of the thoughtful mind—aware of the past, while planning for the future. In modern times we celebrate New Year’s Eve heartily with food and spirits. By the time the clock strikes midnight and the ball drops, many of us have a list of hopes for the new year. Some are lost in the haze of champagne and glitter confetti, while others hang on clinging through the last months of winter.
The Human Brain is Opposed to Change
We’ve all heard the expression “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In truth, the human brain is incredibly lazy and extremely reticent to change. Human beings by nature are creatures of habit. It’s common knowledge that most humans use fewer than 10% of their gray matter, but there is scientific reasoning for this. The brain likes to go on autopilot, repeating tasks without actual thought.
Self-awareness is a crucial element to change. The human brain is hardwired to do things the same way every time. Even as we are exposed to new stimuli, the primitive dominant parts of the brain, such as the basal ganglia carry out habitual behavior. Cycles are difficult to break and require intellectual diligence and exceptional self-monitoring skills to adjust.
Self-defeating Thinking and the “Mega-Resolution”
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to making a change in one’s life is attempting a major re-haul without actually taking the time to analyze how this change may be implemented. These types of resolutions are more of a fantasy of how a person would like something in their life to be. One can envision what life would be like once the resolution was fulfilled, but cannot succeed in conquering this resolution because they lack the insight and planning necessary to succeed. The foundation for change is not there. For example, if someone desires to quit smoking but continues to socialize with smokers regularly, their chances of actually quitting are fairly low. Change is an internal process that can be influenced by external stimuli. Negative thinking and a lack of resistance to triggers allow the habit-ridden to indulge without taking responsibility for the habit itself. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Relinquishing power to “fate” allows for a convenient excuse to avoid making positive changes.
How to Make Resolutions Reality
Identify a problem and create a multi-step plan that involves checkpoints– be creative. Keep a record or journal of what works and what does not. See yourself as someone who is constantly evolving rather than taking each setback as a massive failure. Set realistic goals that does not require a complete overhaul of your life. Essentially, you must trick your brain into learning a new pattern through repetition of good habits. And, above all else avoid self-persecution. Guilt will not help you attain anything positive, it will simply serve as an obstacle in achieving your goals. Every time we fail, we gain a precious opportunity to examine why things went wrong. This phase of change is perfect for recognizing self-defeating behaviors. Negative self-talk is a huge barrier to success. Reiterate the importance of seeing failures not as setbacks but opportunities to learn and adapt to a more realistic change model.
Any time of year is the perfect time to enact a change model in your life. You do not need a momentous occasion glittered with fireworks and champagne to commit to making a positive change. The most meaningful resolutions can happen at any time of year: a choice to be kinder, a promise to be more patient. These resolutions we can start anytime, and the rewards will be immeasurable.
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If you are struggling with addiction, or simply feeling overwhelmed by life in general, these local resources may be helpful to you:
Crisis Line: 1- 866-427-4747 (24 hour)
WA Recovery Help Line: 1-866-789-1511 (24/7)