Well its the first week of 2022 My guess is most people have made New Year’s resolutions. And the truth is, most people do not follow through with them. Why is this? Why is change so hard for humans? And how do you make change stick?
To start, humans are a species that likes homeostasis, or status quo. Change takes effort in the brain and the brain likes to use as little energy as possible in the short-term. Problem is, many patterns we have can be ones that are self-defeating and in the big picture create more pain, suffering and use more energy. Our brains like short, quick fixes and are resistant to using energy to change. Therefore, it take quite a bit of determination to commit to making a change and lots of repetition for this change, or new habit, to become normalized and the new status quo.
Some helpful tips are to focus on one change at a time, and then repeat it intentionally and with as many reminders and tools as we need to do the new habit until it becomes the new normal. Once this happens, this new habit becomes easy to stick with, but during times of duress we can go back to our old patterns.
Here is an analogy. Imagine that your best friend lives half a mile away through the woods and for the past 5 years you have made pathway in the forest to their house. Over time that pathway becomes worn down and you will be able to walk it without paying attention. When your mind is wandering and thinking of other things, then before you know it you are at your friends house. But then one day someone shares with you that if you take this other way 500 meters further north, there are better views, it is sunnier, and there is no poison ivy or prickers like on your other path. You decide to try this new path and realize how much more pleasant it is. But, the next day you are distracted and thinking of your work assignment for tomorrow and before you know it your half way down the old path so you just keep going.
This keeps happening and you barely remember the new path. Then you decide to intentionally go the new path, and even if you start the old path, you turn around and go the new path, and you put reminders in your home to remember to go the new path. Over the next few months you repeatedly go the new path and now this one is worn down and the old one is staring to fill in with weeds. This new path is now what feels natural to you. Except for the day you are really upset about something and before you know if you went down the old path. This is what it is like to build neuronal pathways in your brain. And even when you create a new one, the old one always exists, hopefully weaker, but will be gone back to in times of extreme duress. This is because the lower parts of your brain that take over in fight or flight still have those pathways in place. So habits need to be repeatedly practiced to become a new norm, and even then sometimes you will do an old bad habit, and then you consciously and with self-compassion get back onto the new path.
So given this new knowledge, what do you think is the best way to succeed at your new years resolution?
1. Only focus on one new pathway (aka habit) at a time.
2. Make it a realistic pathway (don’t try and learn a new 28 mile path, but a new half mile path is a good start).
3. Repeat as many times as necessary. There is actually a large array of studies showing there is no concrete number to days or time you need to practice a new habit before it takes hold. It depends on the person, the habit, and a slew of other variables. So you just keep repeating until it is the new norm.
4. Put reminders in place to help you succeed.
5. Use your support system to help you succeed.
6. Spend time to understand WHY you want to implement this new habit- write that down, and repeatedly review it. Understanding what purpose, need is being met by this new habit. What will you gain, why is this important to you? Write it down, and review it regularly.
I hope these tips help you in your success to fulfilling you new years resolution.
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