I always feel emotional at the end of December, looking back on the past year and forward to the next. It took me a long time to realize that magical things wouldn’t happen just because a new year was beginning. I went through that cycle of hope and disappointment for many years. How about you?
According to an article in Psychology Today I ran across recently, we make resolutions as a way of motivating ourselves when we’re actually not ready to change our habits. Resolutions are often wildly unrealistic or out of alignment with our self-image—a situation referred to as “false hope syndrome” in the article.
Another aspect of failed resolutions is mistaken cause and effect: We might believe that if we lose weight, reduce our debts, or exercise more, our entire lives will magically change. So even if we meet these challenges, we’re likely to revert to our bad habits when we see that our old lives are pretty much intact except for this one improvement.
Keeping resolutions is about changing behaviors, the article goes on to say. This means changing our thinking and rewiring our brains: “Habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior.”
I always think about how I quit smoking when I think about successfully changed behavior. Dr. Joe Dispenza taught me that I had to change the way I thought about smoking if I wanted to quit. I had to create new neural pathways by creating new thoughts. Then I had to reinforce those thoughts every single day until they became so ingrained that they replaced my old thoughts.
I saw myself as a nonsmoker instead of the person standing furtively by the smelly ashtray outside the restaurant. I saw myself no longer asking whether I could smoke in a nonsmoking area. I saw myself as someone who wasn’t hiding this bad habit from her family. Over time I unlearned the hardwired smoker’s thoughts and replaced them with a nonsmoker’s thoughts. I stopped smoking and never went back.
My wish for you this New Year’s is that you also succeed in rewiring your thoughts in the direction you’d like them to go. Do it the way I did:
- First, become consciously aware of the change you want to make.
- Second, see your life in a new way.
- Third, practice that changed way of thinking every day until it becomes second nature.
I no longer see New Year’s resolutions as a magic wand that will fix everything in my life. I see them as a realistic opportunity to let go of what’s not working and open the door to a new possibility. I hope you can do the same.